How Leadership and Change Culture Impact Transformation

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Transformation initiatives consume significant resources and effort. For businesses that have been around for years, it is more challenging when long-tenured employees resist change. At the same time, leaders who are timid in pursuing change tend to garner little engagement from employees. Leadership and change culture influence the success of transformation.

Their effects are illustrated in the following diagram.

Having a supportive leader is a minimum requirement to get the funding and resources needed for a transformation initiative. However, hands-off leadership doesn’t provide the exposure necessary to get everyone focused and keep the initiative as a top priority.

In businesses where there is a weak change culture (bottom left quadrant), resistance to change stalls progress. The transformation team spends an inordinate amount of time to overcome objections and win support. Without the leader actively promoting the initiative and standing behind tough decisions, well-intended efforts could be overturned.

Even when there is a strong culture for change (bottom right quadrant), the lack of constant reinforcement generates opportunities for other priorities to take over. The hands-off support from the business leader creates a perception that the transformation doesn’t warrant his personal attention. Hence, daily whirlwinds rob resources away. This slows down progress and the success of the transformation.

On the contrary, when the leader is a hands-on role model, his commitment rallies employees behind the initiative. He communicates frequently about progress, challenges and achievements. He also takes action to demonstrate his adoption of change.

Businesses with a weak change culture (top left quadrant) would take a little time to warm up to the myriad of changes to be introduced. There would be resistance but the committed leader will win support over time. The transformation would progress slowly with mediocre results. The proposed changes might not be adopted as broadly as anticipated.

With a strong change culture (top right quadrant), it becomes easier to engage employees. They understand the need. They are open to new ideas and are flexible in adopting change. More importantly, they are keen in contributing to the success of the business. With the reinforcement by the hands-on leader, transformation is top-of-mind. Employees have trust and confidence. The engaged workforce expedites the transformation effort.

Change could be overwhelming as it represents uncertainty, which could be concerning for employees, including managers and executives. When a leader takes a hands-on role model approach, he speaks with action and commitment. The transformation effort would be fruitful.

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