The biggest threat to a plan’s success is leadership change. It happens to the best of our teams. For reasons beyond our control, the ebb and flow of our co-workers is inevitable. Whether your CEO is stepping out for parental leave, your manager has found a new opportunity, or your department head is going to finally pursue their lifelong dream of mounting their own Vegas act, loss and change of leadership structures run the risk of collapsing our modus operandi.
The silver lining is that our operations should constantly be evolving. Disrupting the status quo may not be the worst thing for growth. The glass-half-full outlook on leadership change is that it gives new leaders the opportunity to step up. Routine shake-ups are healthy for cultivating new ideas and perspectives.
However, there are things we, as a business community, need to keep in mind when we lose leadership – especially those championing our important initiatives. Executive sponsorship is imperative for strategic, operational, change management, and many other types of plans. Without top-down support, our bottom-up buy-in and alignment is impossible.
So, the million-dollar question – how do you keep your plan momentum going through leadership change?
At AchieveIt, we work with many organizations of all sizes and industries. Below are 3 things your peers are doing in the face of leadership change with a plan monitoring tool like AchieveIt to help. These are ways that you can continue to execute, report, and iterate on your plans, despite who is or isn’t at the helm.
I know we talk about this all the time at AchieveIt (we even have a whitepaper on it), but these four elements really do drive your plan – any type of plan – to success.
When leadership shifts, there is a giant hole created by lack of visibility. The overview that leader had in their head of all the initiatives that are being executed, along with insight into where everyone’s at with those projects can easily disappear. There’s no easy way of knowing who owns what, what’s overdue, what’s working and not working, or even why certain initiatives were chosen in the first place. No wonder the failure rate on plans that lose their champions are so high – you lose all the plan information when you lose them if you don’t take extra steps to make that information readily available.
At AchieveIt we try to head these issues off with training and plan optimization from the beginning. Our customers who sign on to use the software also benefit from several hours of training and on-call best practice advice. We try to lay the groundwork before you start executing your plan to ensure that even with leadership change, the issues of visibility and the ensuing scramble that happens in the event of leadership change will not cause disruption.
However, if you haven’t built your team to be bought-in from the beginning, something we believe helps fix the problem is using a plan tracking and monitoring system that allows everyone to access and update that information whenever or wherever. To set yourself up for the most success in any leadership change event, making sure you’re clear about ownership, having consistent follow-up, and enabling metrics tracking within context are your best opportunities for keeping the ball rolling.
Having a system that shows clear alignment from small tasks to larger strategic activities will help keep your team together and on the right track. Remind employees how their work contributes to advancing the organization’s goals to help them concentrate on reaching group achievements. Sharing how each individual adds value to the entity at large will help create much-needed buy-in and commitment in a time of uncertainty and help maintain motivation.
This visual approach can help remind employees that their contributions are concrete, and your organization is still steering in the right direction. And the great thing about this is – if you lose the champion of your operating plan, anyone with access to the tool can pick it up, if you’re using AchieveIt. Official leadership sponsorship is a huge benefit, but a grassroots drive for execution can keep things going in the interim.
When working your way through change management of leadership loss, it is impossible to over-communicate with your work force. Absolutely impossible.
However, you can communicate in the “wrong” way. Make sure your communication is open and honest. Even in the most hostile or regimented situations, you can communicate with integrity without revealing classified information. Approach your communications from a place of empathy and tap into your back stores of patience – you’ll need lots of it.
Make sure your communication about the changes isn’t just one-way either. Our most successful AchieveIt customers in this situation work with a designated group of change champions. These front-line volunteer employees who believe in the positive outcome of the leadership change will have their boots on the ground, and their ears open to co-workers when on break, out to lunch, or at Happy Hour.
Change is emotional. In our webinar with Michael Brazukas, we learned that negative reactions to change are to be expected at first. You must allow your employees the opportunities to deal with change on their own time, including giving them someone they’re comfortable sharing with. This builds trust within the organization and gives everyone a platform from which to be heard.
Ultimately, staying purpose-driven through a leadership change will help your team maintain momentum; if the team is bought into the concept, everyone will be able to lead the charge, instead of just one champion.
Once you’ve made it through this leadership change, you can always expect another one. No matter the scale, change is constant. You will always need to adapt and grow as personnel rotates through the revolving door. But this is good! This is how our organizations evolve and grow. The best thing to do is to prepare your team to handle the next big change.
A handful of AchieveIt customers use our tool to manage things like crisis management response and managing plans that ensure safety training and compliance. While leadership change isn’t exactly in the same category, the idea still applies – create a plan for your “what if” scenarios. The best strategies that we’ve seen have been stress-tested against every likely situation – and even some less likely – including what happens in the event of losing a CEO, Managing Director, or being bought and sold.
Build training and development programs into your overarching plans. Investing in your human capital can be just as valuable as executing an important initiative. Tracking personal improvement is important to build trust with your work force, so that they feel more aligned, more prepared, and more loyal to the organization in the face of immense change.
Overall, instilling a sensation of inspiration, vision, energy, and support into your culture will create a group of employees who are dedicated – at a cultural level – to executing your plan, no matter which leaders are in place.
Perhaps the best advice Michael Brazukas gave in a webinar with us recently was to keep going.
When it seems like you’ll never see the positive side of a big change – like leadership overturn – you will eventually get there, and a New Normal will be established. Things like a tool that helps you track your initiatives no matter who your leader is, clear and empathetic communication, a culture of accountability and commitment to execution, and flexible preparedness for change will only make the path to the other side smoother.
The biggest detriment to your progress can be the change adaptation mentality of, “Well, the initiatives are going to change with new leadership anyway, so we’ve stopped reporting in the meantime until we know what to do.”
Yes, things will change. However, don’t inhibit all the initiatives you’ve been working towards. To continue tracking, reporting, and working on your determined initiatives will not be for nothing. New leaders will appreciate someone who has remained resolute in the face of uncertainty and be thankful for continued progress and up-to-date data. Also, you chose these initiatives for a reason – they’re likely still very important and will be taken into consideration by new leadership.
Annie Duke, a former professional poker player and strategist said, “The more you can get comfortable with uncertainty, the better off you are. It’s a more accurate representation of the world.”
Don’t let your plan execution suffer because the person hounding you for plan updates has moved on. Show a little initiative, hold yourself accountable, and make your impact on your organization be felt in a big way!