- October 29, 2021
How can we avoid disruption to the organization when change leadership and follow-through are critical?
Organizations often fail to provide continuous support to leaders who have recently been promoted or externally placed to lead a new group or function. Finding the ideal candidate to guide such changes is referred to as the leadership selection process. Much has been written about this selection process, but little has been written on the support and advocacy of a candidate when placed in a new role.
In IT organizations, the advocacy of new leaders is often expedited or skipped in totality due to the need to put someone in charge and quickly achieve results. This approach is usually a short-term fix and one that often fails; it is harmful to the individual, their department, the teams they lead, and ultimately the organization’s credibility. This challenge presents an opportunity to offer visibility into the implications of selecting leaders and advocating for them appropriately so they can lead their function effectively upon inception and beyond.
How can we avoid disruption to the organization when change leadership and follow-through are critical? Through a comprehensive leader selection process and, more importantly, a comprehensive layer of leadership advocacy! Your first step in the process is:
Start with sponsorship. The sponsor should be the individual with the vision for the leader they wish to onboard to meet organizational strategic objectives. Sponsors do not necessarily need to be the upcoming leader’s direct superior but should be in the close line of command and have the authority and support to enact change.
Sponsors serve as the key advocate for organizational change. They should be present every step of the way, from identifying the need for leadership change to announcing the role of the leader to the organization. Active and visible sponsorship is the most significant contributor to the success of any change initiative. According to a survey by Prosci, a leader in change management training, 73% of respondents with extremely effective sponsors met or exceeded objectives compared to 29% with highly ineffective sponsors.
Once your ideal sponsor is in place, you are ready to shape the vision and purpose.
Organizational Design (OD) is the discipline of shaping an organization to achieve its vision and purpose. Leadership selection and advocacy should be baked into the effort. It should align people, work, and competencies with business strategy and objectives.
In today’s digital economy, IT organizations are frequently tasked to rethink their structures and create new models to meet customer demands quickly. With such structural changes, new departments or functions are produced, accelerating the identification and selection of competent leadership. As these rapid changes occur, Organizational Design establishes new structures. In addition, it determines leader profiles and advocacy needs to ensure the roll-out of a new business structure is completed successfully.
Once the organizational design is crafted and the sponsor understands the vision, it is time to find the right candidate.
Identifying an ideal candidate during pandemic times can be very challenging. The market is highly competitive, and many financial and cultural factors play into the selection process. Finding a leader who can drive and accelerate change is vital. According to Gallup, companies fail to choose the right talent for the job 82% of the time. The right candidate’s identification and selection mustn’t be rushed but given ample time and resources to determine the best fit.
Candidates may consider a role because they are familiar with the needs and expectations from a subject matter level but fail to understand the organizational leadership required. Therefore, sponsors must work closely with internal HR partners to ensure expectations and requirements are clearly defined and communicated to meet their needs.
Fast forward: You have found the right leader to support the vision as outlined in the business strategy objectives and the new organizational structure. Now it’s time to get to work!
Rules of the road
Setting expectations early eliminates distractions and drives focus on “why the new leader is here.” Sponsors should start by explaining the organization’s vision and history. Illustrate how the new role fits into the target state and explain “what good looks like.” Next, lead the conversation into the importance of metrics and the continuous monitoring process.
Metrics should be specific and truly measurable. Most metrics should be aligned directly to the organizational objectives, such as operational efficiency, employee productivity, and technology. Explain how each set of metrics support achieving organizational goals; understanding encourages greater achievement, desire, and foresight. It’s important to emphasize that the metrics are likely to evolve as time goes on and milestones are achieved – the leader and sponsor should work together implement adjustments, when appropriate.
Sponsors monitor a leader’s progress according to a set of metrics transparently to promote continuous performance evaluation. Create a tracking sheet and use a designated template to track a leader’s personal goals and organizational objectives.
Leaders should embrace their empowerment, autonomy, and decision-making authority. Providing a clear delineation of responsibilities and ways of working across functions avoids duplication or redundancies that lead to confusion of duties. Leaders and team members who collaborate are more likely to meet objectives and build comradery in the process.
It’s easy for organizations to get caught up in sprinting towards results and overlooking the individual attention the leader needs to be appropriately equipped. However, this is not where the attention and support ends – this is just the beginning!
The advocacy of a new leader requires continuous reinforcement and support in a variety of ways. Ongoing advocacy is just that — consistent affirmation of the leader’s ability to meet organizational objectives through support, enterprise-wide and communications, feedback, and growth.
Sponsors and coaches should build trust with their leaders and create a safe environment to be truly effective in their advocacy.
Be intentional through establishing long-standing one-on-one routines. Routines promote consistency; this encourages ample time for planning and underlines the commitment of support a sponsor is providing.
Be specific in your routine topics and talking points. Both the leader and sponsor should both prepare topics to review to have a productive discussion. Some standing topics the sponsor may consider are:
- Review progress against metrics and discuss areas of focus
- Share and solicit bilateral feedback
- Ask open-ended questions such as, “What can I do to communicate the importance of your activities and objectives?” to help empower them with creative freedom and encourage ingenuity
- Provide a “Call To Action” and/or actionable prompts such as, “Give me one thing that you can do better to achieve ___ .”
Organizations should instill activities that prompt and measure feedback across the organization, paired with training on how to provide constructive and actionable feedback across all levels.
- Sponsor feedback may be discussed in the routine one-on-ones bilaterally, leveraging the leader’s defined metrics and objectives as the basis for measurement.
- Peer feedback should be provided both formally and informally as requested.
- Subordinate feedback should be requested from the leader but also provided to the leader. The leader must also know how to provide feedback to those below them, as this is a core component of leading and ultimately achieving the organizational objectives.
- Self-assessments are a helpful tool in reflecting and acknowledging gaps — this also drives the impetus for development and improvement.
Organizations should provide their leaders with the appropriate tools and materials to develop and address feedback and any skill gaps.
- Training: Host soft-skill training courses and scenario-based training with colleagues
- Resources: Provide them with books, videos, podcasts, and other resources for self-guided performance
- Experiences: Connect them with peers in the industry and encourage networking groups for shared practices
The best way to ensure that your organization meets defined objectives today and tomorrow is to implement practices and behaviors that strengthen the role of new leaders and advocate for them appropriately in the early stages of their role and the formation of their function.
A sponsor like a CIO or CXO should work with Human Resources (HR) to assess high-potential talent within the organization. HR, as the lead, will provide recommendations on potential leaders and definitions of roles and responsibilities. The expectations are defined by the organizational design, but the soft skills of the leader must also be in alignment. The sponsor should share the vision and associated attributes with recruiting partners so they understand the multidimensions of the candidate to inform the selection.
To reduce churn or friction between managers and employees, select candidates with enough time in the trenches and experience to champion the change. Leadership advocacy begins the moment the candidate is selected.
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