Book review: Making change aligned with company strategy

Getting change right can have win-or-fail and even life-or-death consequences, the authors pair point out in their book Change The Way You Change! 5 Roles of Leaders Who Accelerate Business Performance.

Only 30 per cent of change succeeds, say authors Kendall Lyman and Tony Daloisio – and a 70 per cent failure rate would be unacceptable outside the ranks of leadership.

That figure comes from a 1996 study by a Harvard Business School professor. The pair authors are partners at The Highlands Group, a US-based management consultancy specialising in strategy, organisational change and leadership development, which has worked with Kellogg’s, KPMG, Merck, Mobil and AT&T.

Getting change right can have win-or-fail and even life-or-death consequences, the authors pair point out in their book Change The Way You Change! 5 Roles of Leaders Who Accelerate Business Performance.

A Kaplan and Norton study found only 10 per cent of employees understood their organisation’s strategy, only 30 per cent of executives had their goals aligned with that strategy and 60 per cent of organisations even aligned their processes to their strategy.

And after the 2003 Columbia crash, an accident board concluded that Nasa’s organisation culture had as much to do with the Columbia crash accident as technical failure.

But change is “awkward and hard”, say the authors. Try circling your right leg in clockwise circles while drawing a number six in the air with your right index finger. Would it help if you were offered a promotion or pay rise to do it? No, because most of us are “hardwired” not to be able to do this simple exercise … unless you reverse the six as you draw it. Change involves overcoming resistance, managing transitions and enabling greater engagement.

The book is divided into chapters on accelerating focus, alignment, engagement and leadership and, finally, ensuring sustainability. While there are many tools on offer to help, you’d be forgiven for reading the book to the end and still not knowing where to begin. Neither are the real-life case studies from the authors’ own clients detailed enough to provide good evidence – although there is a bewildering array of studies and statistics.

Still, the authors have decades of combined experience to draw on and there are many useful lists and examples in the book. Perhaps a good way to approach it is to read the chapter summaries first then backtrack to the bits most useful to your situation.

Change the Way You Change! is published by Green Leaf Book Group Press and available in hardback from for US$16.48.

q&a making people change

Suzanne Locke offers more insights from the book:

As the CEO, I’ve got my strategy so why aren’t people listening?

Maybe it’s not as clear as you think. The authors give an example of a client who was clear on the strategy the company was to follow. But when they interviewed the top 20 leaders it was obvious they were unclear. The chief executive had told them: “We’re going to Oregon”. It was a metaphor about how the company needed to fundamentally change everything, like travelling to a new land. But the senior leaders thought the business was about to relocate.

What emotions do people go through in change?

Bain & Company reports that 63 per cent of change initiatives require significant behavioural change from employees. The authors quote the Emotional Cycle of Change it covers: uninformed optimism; informed pessimism; the "valley of despair", when people react with frustration, depression or anger; a move into hopeful realism; and, finally, informed optimism. "If you fail to support employees' emotional transitions, then you should expect nothing more than failure to change the organisation," warn the authors.

How do we begin?

Put together a business case for change that clearly describes the cost of not changing, say Lyman and Daloisio, as well as a clear one to two-page change charter that gives a summary of the vision and answers important questions. And be clear on the measurements you will use to check in on the change’s success – from business outcomes such as profit or revenue to change impact measures such as employee engagement. Ensure you have “lead” (predictive) measures as well as “lag” (historical) ones or you may not spot a problem until it is too late.

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