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Implementing Change

The levels of thought that deine the stage we call implementing change and achieving positive results are as follows:

Action: Examine what needs to be done to accomplish change and get results.

Audit: Examine what the organization is doing, then identify what, if any, variation exists between the target and the strategy for achieving it.

Evaluate: Examine performance relative to expectations.

This step of implementing change deals with the functioning capability that the organization and its leaders need to apply in order to make the required change happen. A multitude of studies have found that many businesses fail because of poor execution. It doesn't matter how good the strategy is; excellent execution is always more important if you hope to get the results that you and the other stakeholders expect. Let's be clear about what we mean by getting positive results. Those results are, in effect, the measures of the transformational change promised by the future state direction. They are signiiers of progress from a similarly measured current state. For example, if our goal is a workplace safety frequency of 2.0 injuries for every 200,000 hours worked by all the people in the organization, and if we experience an organizational injury frequency of 1.0 injury per 200,000 hours worked last year, then we have succeeded at making positive change. We haven't yet achieved our aspiration, which is zero injuries, but this is a positive result nevertheless.

An action is a clearly deined and planned event that requires an output of energy by the elements and resources that the organization has dedicated to it. At this stage in the change process, the leader's role is to inluence the people in the organization to think about, plan, manage, and lead the work. Role model leaders contribute to this by leading the design of the work processes, by ensuring that their people understand the importance and urgency of the work, by ensuring that the people thus engaged are dedicated and (one hopes) inspired to do the work, and by ensuring that the people doing the work are functionally skilled and have the right mix of character attributes and purposeful behaviours to be effective.

All of this requires the leaders' ongoing involvement. This is not leading by mandate.

The very best role model leaders are not “doing” the work; rather, they are being seen, heard, and felt by their people as being in the work. At the getting-results stage of the change process, the very best role model leaders have a visible and well-understood approach to leading.

People think of execution as something leaders delegate while they focus on the “bigger issues.” Their idea is completely wrong. Execution is a discipline and a system.

Larry Bossidy4

Bossidy is saying that implementation is a leader's most important job. If the leader's role is to inluence people to make positive change, he is deinitely right. Many leaders interpret their role as “asking,” “persuading,” or “demanding” that followers take action based on the direction communicated to

4 Larry Bossidy, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done (New York: Crown Business, 2002), 6. them. But it would be an error to think that a leader simply directs her followers to take action and get results while she merely watches.

I agree with Bossidy, an engineer and business person, and with many others: a leader must be passionately involved in taking action to get results. My experience has been that when a leader is actively and appropriately involved with the people who are implementing the direction, stronger and more effective results are achieved. People want their leaders to be involved; they are inspired by their leaders' participation. A leader's credibility is enhanced when she involves herself in implementation. To be clear, the leader's involvement entails active mental, emotional, spiritual, and – yes – physical work. Implementation is the role and shared responsibility of all the people involved in a project – followers, managers, and leaders.

If you are not consumed with the need to participate in and complete the change process by implementing direction, you are not a role model leader. If you inspire people with a vision of the future and set a direction for important change and then walk away from implementation, telling yourself it's someone else's job, you are not a role model leader. Indeed, you are being foolishly counterproductive and almost guaranteeing markedly suboptimal outcomes.

Think about all the activists who yell and scream about their cause in many forums, even those who speak knowledgeably – those so-called activists who criticize and ask for change and then do nothing. Are role model leaders those people? Or are they the ones who seek to work with others on actionable projects in the private and public sectors? One could argue that the latter are doing more to contribute to a better world.

Even visionary leaders lose credibility if they step aside when it is time to take action, leaving implementation to others. Role model leaders stay the course from idea to results. They are willing and able to participate in the entire change process.

The word action, to me, means productive work that leads to positive change – to the adding of value as judged by the stakeholders. Whether work has been productive is determined by audit and evaluation steps; action includes a process of auditing and evaluating actions that have been taken. To state this more fully, an action, such as “selling more widgets,” is subjected to an audit, such as “how many” and “what size.” The results are then subjected to an evaluation: Did these outcomes of the action beneit the stakeholders of the enterprise? What level of productivity, quality, or service was reached? Managing is largely about controlling the work, “stabilizing” it, if you will. In this vein, managing during times of change involves looking out for whether the change is working and whether the change could be carried out more eficiently. If additional change is needed, or if the change is pro-
ceeding according to plan but those following have the capacity to accomplish even more positive change, leading addresses that circumstance.

Leadership is extremely important in the overall iterative processes of action, audit, and evaluation. Each of these requires decisions to be made: decisions relating speciically to the need for further changes, as well as decisions regarding followers' potential to do more. The very best role model leaders participate and collaborate with others – both those managing and those following – during implementation. They are also lexible, and they have the skill and judgment required to decide on the best ways to maximize long-term results.

In the simplest of terms, leaders, managers, and followers work closely together from strategy through action to auditing and evaluation.

The principal leadership roles are as follows: making strategic decisions relative to selecting, retaining, and developing people; making decisions about changes in strategy; helping managers assess results; and engaging with followers to understand their needs so that positive results are obtained.

The principal management roles are as follows: establishing eficient control; planning action steps; getting results through people; controlling inputs and outputs to projects; and auditing and evaluating results.

 
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