Thursday, 4 October 2007

The answer to myth 2: Only change at the top can ensure change within the organisation

As promised, I continue to reveal the answers to the list of myths I gave you in my post of September 24th. Today, I’ll explain why it’s not only change at the top that can ensure change within the organisation.

Sure, you need change at the top. You wish to see that the top leadership takes things seriously and that they are on the path of change. It may be that they themselves have declared these intentions, conscious of the importance of their role modeling. If it goes that way, bingo! But sometimes it doesn’t. There is a spectrum of leadership-at-the-top behaviours. On one end: total support, clear leadership and a pristine role model with high awareness of the importance of their behaviours. At the other end of the spectrum: total blockage, lack of support and unhelpful behaviours that jeopardize change efforts made in many other parts of the organisation. Success at that end of the spectrum happens despite leadership, not because of it. And there are, of course, situations in between! Conventional wisdom says that there is a good correlation between leadership and changes, but reality tells us that it is not often the case.

‘Change at the top’ is obviously desirable, but Viral Change does not wait until this is happening. The power of the distributed leadership - mainly across the Champions network – often leads to advances on the ground not mirrored at the top. Of course, this may be a problem. I am used to Champions telling me about these ‘disconnects’ and their worries about taking risks with no consequent support. My general advice is usually one of ‘suspend judgement’. Unless there is notorious toxicity in the system (leadership does NOT want the changes, no matter how much of a distributed leadership is pushing for them), many so-so leadership teams - which were supposed to lead but didn’t jump on the wagon at the last meeting - will see tipping points and changes occurring when they open the windows. And then they will suddenly become fully supportive and they may, dare I say it, even try to take credit for it.

In my next post, I’ll explore the next myth: ‘People are resistant to change’. Let me know how you feel about this myth by sending me a comment and then check my blog to see my take on it.

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