Leadership: The Truth about Change

I am delighted to interview Hilary Potts as she launches her new book, “The Truth about Change” this week.” Hilary Potts has guided executives through successful change initiatives, and is also the author of the popular “The Executive Transition Playbook.” Her more than 30 years as an executive, included stints with a Fortune 500 company and as CEO of a prominent consulting firm. Her firm, The HAP Group, helps leaders successfully navigate today’s competitive business world. www.HilaryPotts.com

1. Why write a book about change when so many others have written on the topic?

I have a passion for helping leaders find the simplest path to achieving results. This means being a change savvy leader who can take innovative strategies with solid plans and engage people to want to implement the solution. However, with more focus on a result and not enough emphasis on the people aspects of the change, an effort can falter.

My goal in writing The Truth About Change was to provide leaders with practical approaches and a framework that I have used with clients to successfully lead the people-side of change. Over the decades of working with thousands of leaders, I have found some basic concepts that help leaders bring out the best in themselves and others thus creating a human-bridge between the opportunity, the solution, and the outcome.

2. Why is organizational change so fraught with challenges both for the implementers and those affected by it?

The speed of change in this 24/7 society can be overwhelming and confusing. Organizations are on initiative overload, trying to plug everything into the system to achieve the desired outcomes. People are bombarded with change both in their business and personal life. People are expected to hear about the change and take immediate action. And businesses are counting on these changes to deliver the business targets.

Leaders may think they have communicated the change, but their messages leave more questions than answers. The lack of true agreement can hang up a change effort as leaders disagree on the direction and approach. Some leaders are uncomfortable and shy away from the very actions and conversations that will enable the results. It’s much easier to talk about the solution or the numbers on a spreadsheet then it is to address the people issues and concerns.

Leading organizational change requires consistent leadership involvement to build commitment and engagement throughout an organization. Leaders need to approach critical conversations, even if it means listening to people’s objections. Only then does a leader know what is truly going on and can make the adjustments to unlock the potential of people to take positive action.

3. What is one thing senior executives may forget or neglect as they implement strategic changes?

It’s easy for leaders to look at a change as if it’s no big deal. Leaders have weeks and months strategizing and planning. With all the planning, it’s too easy for leaders to forget or even neglect to consider the impact a change has on the people they are asking to make the changes. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the innovative solution and the need to drive results, that leaders can forget that people are a key part of the results equation.

Most people when asked will say they want the results, but few people want to have change imposed on them. With change comes an expectation to do something different. This is scary, uncomfortable and opens us up to potential failure. No one likes to fail. When leaders and their people can find ways to get comfortable with the uneasiness of change, to understand the impact of a change on people, they are in a better position to take advantage of business opportunities. Actions to create an environment of engagement and commitment foster results.

4. When it comes to accountability, why is it that many senior leaders shy away from this or are not as rigorous with this as they need to and what can they do about this?

Most leaders will tell you they ‘own’ the solution and the results. Accountability starts well before the results come in. It starts with a leaders actions in implementation of the solution. Why is this hard for leaders?

Well a cynic might say that if the results don’t follow, some leaders don’t wish to be associated with a failure. If the team isn’t winning, then leaders are accountable for helping to make course corrections. That’s not always easy as there may be a fair amount of resistance built up in the organization. However, leaders who take ownership for the implementation, who are engaged and involved end up enrolling others to step into action. It becomes a win-win.

5. What can middle managers do who are often “caught in the middle” – they may not like the direction of the change that the company has adopted or how it is being handled ( and nor do their direct reports, for that matter) but yet they need to do the “right things”, what would your suggestion/recommendation be in such instances?

Middle managers are caught in the middle between senior leaders and the people performing the work. In the multiple layers of management there is usually a layer of management that resists the change. Senior leaders need to identify where the management resistance will come from and engage the management in the solution.

As a middle manager, it can be easy to push back or resist a change as it’s probably one of many initiatives going on. What I hear is managers complaining that the senior leaders don’t understand and are making poor decisions. They hear from their people that they are overwhelmed and can’t do any more work. A middle manager’s work is tough as they need to seek to understand the strategy behind a change and communicate it to the team in a way that people want to be part of the solution.

This takes being objective, seeking to understand, identifying the issues, and resolving the challenges, usually with minimal resources. It takes moving from managing the work that people know how to do, to leading people to work in new ways. It means putting aside your own issues and serving others in terms of communication, coaching, and providing ample feedback.

6. How can employees keep up with the new norm of “ accelerated change as a constant.”

No one likes a Debbie or Donny downer. Work on becoming change resilient. Which means identifying a change, recognizing it’s meant to help an organization and not aimed at you directly. Be open to new ideas. Shed the feeling of entitlement, it only gets you in trouble. Instead, be an agent of change continuing to find new and better ways to work. You will grow in the process and you will be adding tremendous value to your colleagues and the organization.

7. From your personal experience, what is your best example of a change effort that was handled well.

Change-savvy leaders take very sensitive “people” changes and make them appear to be non-events. How do they do this? They understand the business, they have built the trust and respect of the people and they determine the best approach to leading the change. They create a change roadmap that takes a holistic view of the business and the initiatives and prioritizes and sequences the leadership actions to engage others in the solution. A change roadmap helps senior executives think, strategize, and plan the change effort down to the specific behaviors so that leaders can quickly engage people across the organization to understand and accept the solution. These leaders know the power of communicating the change, providing ample feedback, and understanding and removing the obstacles that may get in the way of people working in a new way. When leaders are engaged, then they have the ability to engage others to realize the results well ahead of plan.


8. What do you want readers to get from this book?

The secret is that people are at the heart of executing change. When leaders can incorporate the people-side of change into their solution, they have a competitive advantage and results will follow. I hope leaders at all levels of the organization read The Truth About Change to avoid the common pitfalls and incorporate proven strategies to successfully lead themselves and others through change. When leaders step into change with confidence, they are in a stronger position to assist others. With this positive momentum, leaders build the engagement and commitment and the results follow.

For more information and ideas, please visit Hilary’s website http://www.hapgrp.com or order a copy of The Executive Transition Playbook: Strategies for Starting Strong, Staying Focused, and Succeeding in a New Leadership Role on Amazon.com

Source: Hilary Potts

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