Have you been disrupted recently? Do you sometimes feel like your organization is flailing, barely able to keep up with the pace of change? You are not alone. Industry disruption and accelerating change are no longer remarkable phenomena requiring a special response — they are part of the landscape. And organizations need more individual leaders who can help everyone navigate through the new, speeded-up and volatile world. Problem is, too many organizations approach this challenge with a one-size-fits-all idea of what change leaders should look like, and they train them accordingly.
In our research on change agents at the Phoenix Community of FCB Partners, we have found that there are three distinct challenges which require different kinds of change leaders: (1) transformational leaders, (2) innovation instigators, and (3) innovation managers.
The Transformational Leader
The first challenge is helping people to understand the environment, and to motivate them in response. Thus transformational leaders set context and inspire. They start with a picture of the customer that is personal and emotional, then focus attention and resources where the organization can create the most value for that customer. They inspire by communicating an aspirational purpose that grabs people and taps into their emotions. They articulate the organization’s reason for being, and create goals and measures that support this rationale. They engage, tell the big story of why you do what you do, listen, and model desirable behaviors.
Jose Luis Prado is a good example. He arrived as President at Quaker Foods North America in 2011 to find a strong, trusted brand with nutritional oatmeal products, but he knew there was an opportunity to build upon the legacy of this iconic brand. To describe the journey the company would go on, he used an architectural metaphor to create an inspiring vision (based on the Chicago Skyline), and tied specific business priorities (“Must-win Battles”) to the vision. He launched eight transformation teams (e.g., inspiring workspaces, culture) that engaged 100+ volunteer leaders. Prado tapped a broader and more basic energy source that effective transformational leaders are able access, and that must come before concrete and specific strategies, plans, and business actions.
The Innovation Instigator
The next step is recognizing the specific opportunities and tactics it will take to fulfill the picture painted by the transformational leader. Innovation instigators identify improvements around creating customer value and mobilize the organization to pursue them. They understand the big picture, but also sense the truth about what’s possible today, balancing facts and firsthand experience. They are pragmatic and opportunistic, and know how to create a sense of urgency amongst their teams. They manage influence, figuring out who is impacted by change, what motivates them, and how they can be effectively engaged.
Paul Klein, Senior Vice President of Information Systems and Chief Process Officer at Rich Products Corporation (the $3 billion food manufacturer), is always looking for the next source of customer value. Earlier in his career he worked at EDS (an IT services provider), where he learned how to run IT as a business. Ever since, he has been very conscious of costs and comparisons of leaders and laggards. He looks at his leadership team as a kind of sales force, each member of which should be developing a pipeline of opportunities to add more value all the time. He is never satisfied with the status quo, relentlessly looking for new ways to sustain and grow the company’s success by enhancing the customer experience.
The Innovation Manager
The final challenge: follow-through. Innovation managers execute improvements and simultaneously engage and develop people. They manage the journey, providing program and project management, tracking progress against plans, monitoring experiments, and promoting quick wins. Crucially, they develop people, keeping in mind the big-picture, always showing respect for people’s knowledge and experience. They relate their initiative to other initiatives, help to enable other leaders and managers with tools, and connect purpose to the front line.
Since 1998 Doug Drolett has been a business process consulting leader, and global process management architect, as Shell implemented global standard systems and processes in its downstream (refining and retail) business. Drolett has the unique ability to go from the big picture and overall program design to navigate through the politics and organization to engage stakeholders and handle problems. With his experience in various change methods, such as business reengineering, Balanced Scorecards, and Lean, he applies just the right tool and method to fit the situation. For example, during the rollout of Shell’s standard global processes the justification for the program shifted; he developed measurement models linking strategic objectives to operational performance using “strategy maps” to clarify the benefits of investments for senior leaders.
We need more Jose Luis Prados, Paul Kleins, and Doug Droletts. How do we develop these different kinds of change agents?
To build innovation managers, assess competencies and then provide tailored development activities.Innovation managers have a fairly structured role — closer to science than art among these three types — which lends itself to traditional development methods: define a competency model, assess people against it, then co-develop a tailored plan to address gaps.
Google has adapted this in an interesting way. It conducts an annual review of its managers by subordinates on eight specific measurable behaviors, such as “is a good coach” and “empowers the team and does not micromanage.” (These behaviors were derived by analyzing data from best performers in “Project Oxygen”, driven by Google’s people analytics team.) Based on the upward feedback survey results, managers are given reports rating them on the eight behaviors and providing them with links to information about best practices, suggested actions to improve, training, and panel discussions featuring high-scoring managers. The behavioral assessment is for self-development, not performance reviews.
For transformational leaders and innovation instigators, try a more unstructured approach: people develop themselves while working on great stuff.Transformational leader and process innovator roles are less structured — more art than science — and therefore depend more on hiring great people and supporting them in their self-development.
Netflix believes in developing people by giving them the opportunity to develop themselves, by surrounding them with stunning colleagues and giving them big challenges to work on. Formalized development is rarely effective, and they don’t try to do it. They believe instead that high performance people are generally self-improving through experience, observation, introspection, reading, and discussion.
So as you build your cadre of change agents, remember: it’s not one size fits all. Make sure you have a multipronged approach to identifying and developing them.
This post first appeared on Harvard Business Review and has been lightly edited.