The importance of engaging with business leaders and middle management through periods of change and transformation

Version 1

    Happy Wednesday everyone!

    This is my fourth change management blog post in our Q1 series. Thanks again for the comments and discussions that have come from my previous posts - please keep them coming.

    Today’s topic is ‘The importance of engaging with business leaders and middle management through periods of change and transformation’.


    For the past seven Prosci Change Management Benchmarking studies (1) the top contributor to success for change management initiatives is active and visible executive sponsorship. Additionally McKinsey (2) has found change is only successful when executives mobilize and sustain performance related to the change and communicate objectives clearly.

    This research aligns exactly to what I’ve seen and experienced throughout the past years working with customers on their Google Apps deployments. Sponsorship really is the make or break of a successful project. Often-times sponsors underestimate the impact they can have in helping their teams embrace new ways of working.

    Given that the majority of readers here are particularly interested in increasing adoption of Google Apps within their organisations post go-live, I’m going to focus on how sponsorship can be used to help support this objective. Here are my tips:

    Relying on a single executive sponsor is not enough to ensure long-term success.

    I've been involved with a couple of customers recently where the initial executive sponsor left the organisation post-deployment. This resulted in an almost crisis-like situation, despite the fact that the project had been considered very successful up until that point. The reason for this is that other business leaders hadn't been bought on board during the initial deployment and then ‘rebelled’ once the decision maker left. If you haven’t already done so, I strongly suggest that you establish an ‘innovation council’ or ‘executive committee’’ within your organisation who will help drive ongoing change and deeply embed the new tools into the organisation. The council should be made up of leaders and employees across the organisation. Their main remit is to identify potential areas within their team / function that might be able to be improved through the use of technology. A very simple example might be that someone from the HR team identifies that the existing process which is used to create and get consensus on job descriptions is slow and clunky. The innovation council would then brainstorm ideas about how that process could be improved and might come up with the idea to use Google Docs so that hiring managers and HR can collaborate on the job descriptions (see this example and more HR related use cases here). The council will also highlight if any training needs exist within their department and take the use cases from other departments and share with their own for inspiration.

    The executive sponsor and leadership team need to lead by example.

    This is particularly vital if the organisation is looking to transform aspects of their culture and the way employees communicate and collaborate.  Increasing transparency, sharing, collaboration and being social are goals for many organisations, and the Google technology provides a great platform to enable these behaviour changes. However, the change in behaviour must come from leadership first. If management are not being seen to be transparent, collaborative and social then employees will not start working in those ways either.

    The sponsor should take corrective action with any leaders or managers that aren't on board with transformation initiatives.

    Dealing with resistance is one of the main roles of the sponsor, both during deployment and after go-live. Leaders have a massive influence over the mindset of those people who report up to them. If a particular leader is not on-board with the transformation initiatives, then tough discussions need to be had with that person regarding if the organisation or role is right for them. This may sound harsh - but negativity about transformation initiatives by leaders will negatively impact the entire success of the initiative.

    The sponsor needs to be active and visible post go-live.

    Here are some simple but extremely impactful actions that sponsors can take to reignite employee energy or enthusiasm around an initiative:

    1. Record a short video or send a communication to all staff reminding people why the change was made and how it ties into the organisation's vision and strategy. The message should also encouraging people to look for ways that the tools can be used to solve everyday business challenges they are working on.
    2. Speak about the project and transformation initiatives at *all* meetings, conferences and 1:1’s - even just for 30 second to remind employees how important the transformation is and to thank people for their efforts during times of change.
    3. Solicit feedback or ideas from employees about how things within the organisation could be improved, or ways that more focus could be given to customers. This will help with employee engagement and will also give the leadership team ideas for things that can improve efficiency, performance, customer focus etc.
    4. Reward and recognise people who are demonstrating the right behaviours. For example, only promote those people that are being seen to live and breath the new corporate culture and values.

    Employees take their lead from their manager in the majority of situations, so unless the middle management of your organisation are on-board with your transformation goals, driving change will be hard work. Middle management actually have a pretty tough job; they’re typically not involved in the decision making process regarding change, but expected to execute it and deal with the resistance of their teams while also dealing with their own personal emotions and change journey. Three simple things that I’ve seen help middle managers during period of change are:

    1. Train them on how to 'lead through change'. Give them insight into the psychology of change and tips for helping people as they move through their own personal transition. This will help middle managers become good coaches, and also stop them from taking any resistance about the change personally.
    2. Ensure the executive sponsor spends time communicating to middle managers so they understand how important their role is in the success of a project.
    3. Inspire some friendly competition in the form of 'adoption leader-boards' or competitions for the best use cases within teams.

    The sponsor's role is far from over once an organisation has ‘gone live’, in fact if ‘transformation’ is the objective then go-live is just the beginning of the journey. I can’t stress enough the importance of this role and of other leaders in the successful embedding of change.

    I’d love to hear if any of you have had any experiences relating to the above topics (either good or bad!).

    Looking forward to your thoughts.


    (1) Prosci Benchmarking report

    (2) “Organizing for successful change management: A McKinsey Global Survey,”The McKinsey Quarterly, Web exclusive, July 2006.