CommCorner guest 008: Jonathan Gottlieb, PhD

Jonathan Gottlieb is an organization consultant and executive coach. With over 25 years of experience and a PhD in Organizational Psychology under his belt, Jonathan provides his clients with unparalleled insight as they navigate organizational challenges - culture, change, and team efficacy. A thought partner to his executive clients across the Bay Area and beyond, Jonathan is a trusted sounding board to his clients who many times occupy the lonely position at the top of their respective organizations. Leading change, a particular specialty of Jonathan’s, comes with its own organic supply of potential hazards and Jonathan works with clients through mergers and acquisitions, in addition to the myriad of other ways organizations can experience sweeping change.

His understanding of leadership, team collaboration, and organizational dynamics is just one of Jonathan’s differentiators in his work in organizational development. His clients’ confidence in his grasp of every angle of any situation on the table is invaluable. Jonathan is committed to ensuring integrity, fostering collaboration, understanding complexity, and building capability. His clients improve their leadership performance while the organizations with which he works get better. And that’s what counts.

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Making the Case for Organization Change: Five (plus one) Key Questions to Answer

All too often, leaders who are driving transformational organization change either fail or forget to answer a number of critical questions that can promote adoption and lessen perceived resistance. And the reality is that resistance to organization change often occurs as a result of a lack of information and engagement rather than fundamental disagreement with the change agenda. Some years back, working with colleagues to adapt Beckard’s original formula for overcoming resistance to change, we created a set of five important questions every leader of change should address, plus the one question that is likely the most important.

 

Why change?

It’s difficult to motivate team members to move forward in a different direction if they don’t have the context for the changes being promoted. And as organization cultures become increasingly self-reinforcing, it can be even more difficult to make important shifts that are needed. Often referred to as the “burning platform,” leaders have to provide a compelling rationale for any change upon which they are embarking their organizations. Unless the leadership makes the status quo seem increasingly irrelevant or no longer viable for successful strategy execution, team members will generally be fine proceeding in the current state and avoiding all that goes along with getting to a different destination.

 

Change to what?

Leaders must also communicate an aspirational goal for, or compelling vision of, the future that will drive their transformational change efforts. Visions, when properly articulated, create a shared sense of excitement about what is possible. These visions of the future also provide clarity regarding how the work environment will be different and better. Think Elon Musk and his vision for Tesla. Such excitement generally comes from feelings team members experience as they learn about what is possible. Knowing the destination helps to garner a coalition of followers and participants in the transformational change journey. Without a vision or aspirational destination, coordinating the efforts of the many becomes more challenging.

 

How will we change?

Once team members know why it’s important to change and what the destination is, they also need to hear from their leaders the plan to get from point A to point B. Yet sometimes when changes are being announced, these plans aren’t formalized or clear given most changes aren’t “light switch” in nature. They take time to develop, and they may also need to involve the very people leaders need to have on board. In these situations, leaders can communicate the broader strategy for success along with their plans to design and execute the needed organization changes by sharing the governance structures that will guide the transition and how they will go about planning and executing change. During these times, it’s also important for leaders to over communicate, including communication of progress being made and successes achieved as a way of demonstrating and creating momentum.

 

Is this change really possible?

We’ve all seen or experienced change efforts that fail, often for a variety of reasons. Such failures can create cynical attitudes towards any concerted efforts toward transformational change. Due to the enormity of most organization transformation efforts, team member energy is often increased when their leaders give a sense of hope that the changes they are leading are possible. Some change efforts take years to accomplish and will run into predictable challenges. The members require constant reaffirmation and reinforcement and a sense of ongoing hope that only leaders can provide.

 

What are the expectations?

Most team members, once they know change is coming, want to understand what is expected of them during the change process and in the future. Will they be engaged in planning and developing key aspects of the change? What will be the role of leadership during the change planning and execution? By sharing expectations, leaders have an opportunity to set direction and responsibilities and to discuss how they will resource the change efforts. By aligning goals and incentives, leaders provide important direction and commitment to the changes they are driving. Without these, team members often flounder, and leaders don’t view themselves as accountable or engaged. Just like rolling out plans, leaders should consider and execute regular updates regarding expectations.

 

The crucial “plus one” question:

How will this change impact me?

The reality is that the answers to all of the above questions are only truly impactful if they help to address this important question. As changes are being communicated, most team members are wondering how they will be personally impacted. Will I still have a job? If I do, how will my role change? What team will I be a part of? Will I have a different supervisor, and if yes, who will it be? Will I still be a star? Will I get a promotion like my peer is getting? Will I be able to have a say in how things end up? These are just several of the many questions that go through the minds of any of us when a major overhaul of an organization is being announced. While leaders cannot answer all of these questions immediately, they can ensure individual members of their organizations are included in the discussion so that they get these and other answers as quickly as possible as the change efforts progress.

Leading transformational organization change is not easy. In addition, the reality is that most change efforts overlap one another such that there are fewer periods of stasis. Successful leaders are aware of their important role in communicating a compelling case for change – one that provides clarity regarding the context, direction, plans, possibilities for success, and expectations. They must also ensure that their communications help each individual understand how change will impact them and how each team member can continue to add value. Finally, communication is only one part of ensuring successful transformational change. Leaders' efforts must also be accompanied by resources and other forms of engagement to ultimately move change agendas forward towards successful execution.