In many cases, the success of key projects in a company is basically dependant on the change leader. It is the leader’s role to prepare, support and motive employees so that a change is perceived as something positive, and not just as another management’s whim.Today, it is not possible to provide a stable environment for the purchasing department. A change, as defined by Peter Drucker, is the only thing constant in an organisation, including a purchasing one. There are always two sides to every change. In Chinese, to say the word “change” you need to use two phrases: “opportunity-threat”. What an accurate combination! It reflects the characteristics of a change. For employees and the entire organisation, it gives the potential to develop, but at the same time involves certain serious risks, as statistically confirmed. Notwithstanding the change-related risks, it is puzzling why only 10% of change processes are successful, i.e. result in an effective change implementation.
A strong leader
The first answer we may give is the misinterpretation of the idea of an effective change implementation. The experience indicates that the process frequently identified solely with organisational development. When introducing a change, we often forget that we may consider the activities as effective, only if the change is visible on an individual level, i.e. when the participants of the process begin to think, behave and work in the manner that is relevant to the situation created by the change. Therefore, to achieve both of the goals, i.e. to implement the change on an organisational as well as individual level, it is essential to have a strong change leader. To illustrate the tasks faced by the leader, let us take his/her perspective for a moment. You have just been delegated to manage an organisational change project in a purchasing function. The project has not started yet, but you have already heard rumours about how unpleasant it was going to be, about the cuts and the absurdity of the idea in general. This is a challenging situation, but the leader is not on a lost position at all.
4 essential questions…
However, before the leader can take any actions, he/she should answer four questions.
- Does my organisation feel the need for the change and have the energy to change?
- Is the vision of the target state clear and accepted by all key persons?
- Have we got all the necessary resources and skills to successfully deliver the project?
- Have we created a realistic plan of action?
If the change leader’s answer to at least one of the questions above is negative, the implementation of the change is considered a high-risk.
What is the risk?
First, the feeling that there is no need for a change results in a low priority of the project within the organisation. Consequently, there will always come up another more important issue that will absorb the resources designated only to the project. The lack of mutual understanding about the current situation and the targets usually causes a false start. Everyone is ready to start and starts to run, but everyone is heading in a different direction. The energy is wasted on discussing what would be the best solution at a given time, which solution to choose, etc. As a result, there is no progress on the project. However, the most common issue faced by the change leader is the lack of relevant resources and skills. The project team members have to perform project-related tasks and every-day goals as required in their positions. Over time, such a situation causes immense pressure. And if, additionally, team members are not properly skilled to effectively deliver the new vision, then we may be sure we are dealing with a time bomb. So, the question is when will the people lose their patience. And finally, the lack of a viable plan of action. We often tend to speed things up and undertake too many tasks. Consequently, people who implement the change feel increasing helpless and frustrated. The leader’s role is to, from the very beginning of the project, equip the organisation with all four key elements that are decisive for the successful change implementation. To that end, the change leader needs to cooperate with the project’s sponsor who has to support the leader throughout the project.
From the resistance to the experiment stage
Coming back to the change leader; the leader’s actions have been effective and together with the sponsor he/she has been able to provide the four most important elements. But, it is not the end of his/her activities related to preparation and implementation of the change. In fact, it is only the beginning – the grounds for successful change implementation. To better understand further actions of the leader, we have to think about people’s reactions to change, which can be different. Every person shows specific emotional reactions to a given change. These reactions can be classified under five stages of the change process, i.e. shock, denial, resistance, experiment and adaptation. The leader’s role is to achieve the situation in which people directly or indirectly affected by the change are in the stage of adaptation to the change. Interestingly, the failure in change implementation is often caused by the belief that people who do not object to the change have accepted it. In majority, however, these persons are going through the stage of denial. That is why, they are indifferent to the change, and act as if nothing happened. They ignore any activities that are required by the change process. Ironically, resistance is a positive signal to the leader, because it means that people have understood what the change involves, how they need to change and how to think. Given that, resistance is a natural reaction. The leader’s role is to bring these persons from the resistance stage to the experiment stage to test the new rules. This stage is often called “one step forward, two steps back”. It is essential for the leader to constantly provide support, because people easily go from the experiment stage back to the denial or resistance. When in adaptation stage, people are generally happy that the change has occurred.
The success of the leader’s actions is measured in an effective introduction of new organisational solution in a company and in the change of employee’s way of thinking. With the support of a project’s sponsor and in cooperation with competent project team, a strong leader is able to deliver this task and achieve the agreed goals. However, the final success of the change implementation depends on creating appropriate grounds and the systematic approach to managing.