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When Leading Organizational Transformation, Just How Open-Minded Are You?

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As CEO, you want answers. And when faced with the uncertainty of business transformation, you want answers fast and you want to trust them. However, when initiating and overseeing transformational change, driving too fast and too hard for answers is not a formula for success. In fact, it can be the very mindset and style that impairs it. Is your mind open to discovering what your organization and people need to succeed? Really open?

Organizational Transformation Is Messy and Unpredictable

The process of organization transformation is complex, messy, and ever-changing. No pre-determined plan will stick. This makes it hard on leaders who want to ensure a successful outcome, and hard on stakeholders who want clarity and security before they will budge. It’s important to understand transformational change to know how to best lead it. Transformation change starts before you have answers about a definitive solution, about how fast it can occur, and about how much it will cost. At best, you can determine directional guidance—a vision of what the organization needs to do differently to produce a vastly better service or product for your market. That’s a start, but not a plan.

Leading Transformational Change Without a Clear Plan

How do you provide transformational leadership without a clear plan? You don’t. Based on known information, you must design ways to figure it out as you go. You must communicate that the organization is in a discovery process and, if you are courageous and smart about it, engage both your experts and your stakeholders to help figure out a solution and way of working that works for them and fulfils your vision. It takes understanding the questions you need answered, and having an open mind to discovering the highest outcomes possible. After all, that’s what you are hoping for with your transformation, right? The best possible outcome that your organization can adopt and sustain over time.

Innovation: Letting Solutions Emerge in the Discovery Process

So what are the questions to generously explore? (Note the “generously.” That means do not press for answers before their time; impatience closes down innovation. It means be open to outlandish ideas, a healthy and energetic discussion of possibilities. It means expand your input base by asking your stakeholders who will need to live with the solution you ultimately discover and implement. It means listening for information you have never considered and letting potential options emerge.)

Questions to Explore to Shape Your Transformational Change Process

  1. What has triggered this change…both good news and bad?

  2. What is your desired direction (vision) telling you about the future state design you need? How much is known and how much is clear?

  3. What do you already have in place that potentially supports your direction? Consider technology, structure, processes, cultural ways of working, mindsets, and behaviors.

  4. Is there anything directly blocking your ability to create your vision?

  5. Do you have any boundaries you cannot cross? Regulations? Investments? Stranded assets?

  6. Who in your organization (at all levels and in all areas) might have something important to say about what the future could hold? Who is thinking out of the box? Has passion about this? Already works this way?

  7. What could external experts offer? How could you engage them to support you to be successful on your own terms? (No ready-made solutions please, no matter how tempting they might seem.) What do you need to fit your requirements and uniqueness?

  8. What are the potential people dynamics this transformation will likely trigger? How can you mitigate or reduce them from the start? Whose shoes do you need to walk in to understand these human impacts (think emotional readiness, cultural norms, behaviors, relationships)?

  9. Do you have a full picture of the scope of this effort and its impact on all aspects of your organization? Have you considered the organizational changes, cultural and people changes, and customer requirements?

  10. How do you need to lead differently to make this work long-term?

  11. What do your people need to understand to get behind your company’s transformation; something that is compelling for them to take a stand for?

  12. How open are you to planning based on what you think you know and then encouraging any information (from any source!) that may disrupt your plans and prompt you to make course corrections to the activities, timing, solution, or people involved? Do you have the norms, trust, and system to do this effectively during the change process?

  13. What do you need from your leaders to make this work? Are they prepared to change themselves, their leadership styles, their mindsets, and their team dynamics?

If these questions are already part of your planning when launching a major change effort, congratulations! You are leaps ahead. If they are not, spend some time considering them. Talk about them with your leaders. Practicing being in the inquiry is time well-spent. How prepared are you to change things up in how you and your team lead your most critical change initiatives? Just how open-minded are you when it comes to leading a successful transformation?

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