Paris Conference 2014 - The Posture of the Open-Minded Executive

On Friday afternoon at the Paris conference, we sat captivated while David Jestaz, Director of the Corporate University of Management,  told his story of change in a business unit of EDF (EDRF).  David had created an award-winning training programme to support a major culture change – the business needed to compete in a market where they had previously held a monopoly.  This needed a different approach from people at all levels.  His  story added detail to the award report and supplemented the already interesting case with layers and texture that allowed us to build an even deeper understanding of his Change Program challenges and successes.

At the completion of his story, after questions had been asked, and answered, we were divided into groups and given time to compile some feedback about David’s approach and process.  David sat on a chair in the middle of the room, listening attentively, responding to comments and jotting notes as each group presented their observations.

We appreciated  David’s open mind and curiosity. Even though the program was over – and had been more successful than imagined – he was interested in mining the group for more ideas and perceptions and to test where he could have improved his process. He was already thinking about, and planning for, the next big change program.

This feedback (or post-surgery) session was as rich for the participants as it was for David. As well as anchoring some fundamental concepts and beliefs about how we frame Change so that the client/sponsor understands its urgency, it led to some interesting discussions about recognizing the different levels of Change (for example: “Wicked”  vs Simple). In a matter of a few hours, we peeled back various layers and considered ways to program change resilience into a workforce that was being rocked by the evolving landscape of its industry.

The group specifically picked out the following strengths in David’s approach:

  • How he created ownership with sponsors a step at a time
  • The design of the programme round a concrete “transitional object” – helping people to understand the difference between a business and a public service by thinking as business owners
  • How he orchestrated several specialist suppliers to deliver a seamless programme

The case provided a platform for further discussion that evening and throughout the weekend. What other ways were there to approach “chaotic” and / or “complex change”; how to recognize emergent issues and engage the organization productively to move forward; when was enough change, enough?

David’s note of thanks was validation that the session had been a valuable interchange of ideas and concepts for him, with a link back to the relevant theoretical backgrounds, as well as sharing of practical ideas. The participants left the weekend with rich ideas and were more in tune with current issues faced by industries going through wide- and large-scale change. David’s story was an intense reminder of the challenges that change agents face, occasionally alone, when they know the difficult path – sometimes the unknown path – is the only path to take.

David told us after the conference: “I never got such a smart and friendly feed back from a group. I learned a lot and took good note of what I got”. We, in turn, appreciated the opportunity to analyse the case, and more importantly, the privilege of working with such an  open-minded Executive.

Post by Lisa Francis-Jennings, with support of Jane Lewis, Roberto Saco and Cécile Demailly. Photos by Cécile Demailly.

The 4E's and Change - Part 2

1. An accepted need for change

There must be a “need” creation process – the Leader usually understands the reason and the need for the change first, but not always. Sometimes the need is there, well identified, yet no one knows how to deal with it. It is at this point that the Leader steps in. Importantly he or she must then help create the acceptance of the need for change amongst all members of the organization. And a principal early activity of the Leaders is to help start a trust building process around this need for change.

To do this, Leaders must embody the values of the Enterprise if the change is to be “authentic”.

2. A viable vision of an alternative state

Without a viable and vivid picture of where the organization is going, there can be no change. The Leader’s role is to help convince the key people in the organization of the viability of the new vision with a clear “end state” picture. This which will be:

  • practical – based on real technology, effective organization, available finance etc.
  • worth doing – for the key people in the organization
  • able to grow / develop – everyone can contribute to the change over time
  • able to survive the environmental context outside of the creator’s mind
  • consistent with the Enterprise’s values

A helpful tool is an OGSTM, which formally separates the objectives, goals, strategies, tactics, and measures. If used properly, it is a “living” document which gets everyone concerned “onto the same page” and “connects the dots” between strategy and action planning.

3. Change agents in place – with a guiding coalition

This is one of Kotter’s more telling points. There must be deliberate activity in place to simultaneously build a coalition of willing stakeholders and also create a network of trusted sponsors. It could be either an emergent coalition (that “pops up” when the need for change arises) or it could be a deliberately “designed” coalition. The Leader and the sponsors must have a good knowledge of their people and their roles. And they must ensure both top down and bottom up communication so that course corrections can be made.

The group of change agents must then own the change, and not just the initiator.

4. Sponsorship from above

This is, of course, necessary ….

5. Realistic scale and pace of change – but with a clear sense of urgency

A change Leader must understand the environmental context and as many hard facts as possible to help build realistic goals (and avoid unrealistic ones). Yet how the Leaders of any change process gauge realism is a rather “artistic” activity, requiring skill, good judgement, people sense and intuition. It can help to get some early wins on the way to the big goal, to maintain tempo, and to keep people on board.

Using “rolling forecasts” rather than goals set in concrete can help this. And sorting priorities by clear time sequencing of activities can help create realistic expectations and concrete action plans.

6. An integrated transition program

It is essential to nurture existing “business activities” whilst also building capacity for the new end state. Suggestions to help this include:

  • create interdependence between both states to help each other
  • balance the expectations for forecastable results with breakthrough activities
  • pace the transition from one state to the other
  • include all parts of the organization in building change capacity
  • set up feedback loops to course correct and adapt as things move forward
  • continually consider the psychological transition for people as the change occurs

7. Organization shape to show how tasks and people fit

It is often helpful to provide a “straw man” example of what the organization must look like to get the tasks completed to deliver the vision. The start point is to define the skills needed – and the consequent gaps in capability. It is important to not start planning with the current positions and employee names in the boxes – the key is to build from the future purpose of the Enterprise not from its history.

The Leader will then need to enrol the guiding coalition in the detailed organization design.

Eventually, the sponsors can define the specific roles and responsibilities within the new organization. But if you can’t make all the roles and reporting lines clear, say so. It is critical to provide clarity even if you can’t provide certainty

8. A symbolic end to the status quo

Having a clear and visible end to the “old” whilst also dealing with the mourning for this prior state can be very powerful. We need to be creative about such rituals, and try to build a symbolic (and possibly dramatic) start to the “new” state

9. A plan for likely resistance

Leaders of change must anticipate “pockets of resistance” and develop a specific plan for overcoming their objections. They need to deal with both the organizational and technological aspects as well as the human issues. If appropriate, change Leaders must consider “surgical removal” of obstacles.

10. Constant advocacy – maintain momentum of the change

This requires the full energy of the Leader and the Leadership team. In an effort to create meaning for everyone in the organization, an intensive process of both top down and bottom up flow of communication is necessary. The change Leader needs to bring the program alive for every individual in the organization – and then consistently and constantly communicate the right message –“tell them, tell them, and tell them again”.

11. A locally owned benefits plan

The benefits of the change must be expressed and measured in a concrete and tangible way for both individual employees and for the organization as a whole. This also implies that there is shared accountability within the organization for the results achieved, with the benefits linked to an effective and on-going performance management system.

Of course, a specific change program will tend to focus on a few of these points as being the most critical, but research suggests that all should be born in mind in planning the change.

“Leadership is the energetic process of getting other people fully and willingly committed to a new and sustainable course of action, to meet commonly agreed objectives whilst having commonly held values”

For more details on the 4E’s Leadership Framework, which was Mick’s MSc work on CCC, link here

Related resources, further study and references can be found at