Organisations capable of change create better results, as they have the ability to translate management ambitions into actual behaviour and actions creating results. But major changes require that managers and employees step out of their comfort zone and do something new. To make that happen, you have to change the company culture and transform the company.

Transformation also means uncertainty, and the higher the degree of uncertainty, the more you need someone leading the way. As a business executive, I am sure you have heard this before: How important it is that you take the lead and model the change to your employees. But who should really take the lead? And how and why?

Let us begin with the why
As management consultant, I have assisted executive teams in leading Scandinavian companies in extensive transformation processes, and I have learnt that transformations tend to have two things in common across sectors and company size:

  1. Change causes uncertainty. It is only human to look for stability and comfort in what we know, which is why that all change will encounter some form of resistance and not just among the employees. Although you may expect that your managers drive the change, uncertainty and resistance are fundamental conditions which you have to take into account, also in your management team.
  2. Change will only be successful if it is supported by changed management behaviour and action. Real change of behaviour is evidenced by actions you as a leader can rely on to take place even when you are not watching. The employees’ inspiration to change their behaviour can only come from their managers, which is why changing management behaviour is so critical.

This means that if you as a leader want to see the change anchored in your organisation, you have to address the resistance among your own managers. That way, they will have the prerequisites to act alongside you as role models for the change you want to see throughout your organisation.

Systems and methods will not cut it
The new business strategy which forms the basis for the transformation must of course also be supported by tools and standards to help enable the transformation of the company into the new target state. But it is not enough to implement new systems and methods, thinking they are sufficient to ensure the desired results.

The new behaviour required to reach your desired target state means that people will have to change their mindset so that old and less efficient ways of approaching issues will be replaced by new and more effective thinking ways.

Changing mindset through behavioural focus
The mindset of your managers and employees will define the organisational culture and the actions and behaviour found throughout the organisation.

However, you cannot really measure what people think and feel. You can, however, measure what people do, which is why it is so important to focus on behaviour and actions as a means of developing the mindset and culture of the company: If for example, we begin to approach problems with problem-solving tools and behaviours rather than random symptom treatment, we will be able to change mindset and culture to one characterised by continuous improvement.

But if an employee is to change behaviour, he or she must see that the management team is behind it and is living the new behaviour. This brings me back to role models and behaviour. And to how you create role models for your employees.

The recipe for a role model: Get off the couch – start a running club
A successful transformation requires that everyone in the company understands the purpose and necessity of the business strategy defined by the executive team. And as an executive, it can be hard to convince your employees that the changes caused by the new strategy are both necessary and right if you and your management team continue to nurse status quo through your behaviour. It can be tricky to convince others that it is a great idea to run a marathon if they only see you lying on the couch.

If a transformation is to be successful, it is necessary to create a critical mass in the number of leaders and employees showing the new and desired behaviour. It is essential to get your managers committed and on board as they will be in contact with the highest number of employees. So the executive must create the conditions that will enable the managers to go out into the organisation and exhibit the behaviour and work according to the standards that will ensure realisation of the business strategy.

So how do you create those conditions as the executive? You get off the couch, and you address the uncertainty and resistance which will certain to exist in your management team, and then you start a running club together and run the marathon with the rest of the organisation. You address the uncertainty, resistance and behaviour from your managers to enable them to go out and act as role models. You embrace the change and become part of it. You model the change.

My three main points are that:

  • Sustainable transformation of the business requires changing the mindset and company culture
  • Measure what people do. This way, you will be able to understand their mindsets and to ascertain whether the transformation is taking place
  • Management behaviour is critical so you must address your managers’ resistance and enable them to become role models

Employees and middle managers will not begin to change their behaviour until they see that you really mean business. That you are committed to your transformation process and that this is evident from your behaviour.

Get off the couch, address the resistance in your management team, start your running club, and run the marathon. That is how you become a role model for change!

Originally published in Børsen Ledelse.