How is your company structured to consume innovation? The leadership challenges of change management.

“There are forces out there trying to stop our fun.” This statement was made by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at the Dreamforce conference two weeks ago.

Repeat this statement back to yourself.

(“There are forces out there trying to stop our fun.”)

If this statement were said by someone in your company, who would be the most likely person?

Say we were considering the idea of social strategy. Would the most likely contender be IT? Would it be marketing? Would it be legal? Would it be c-level officers complaining, managers or employees?

Ok well maybe it’s not as dramatic as Benioff’s cryptic remark at Dreamforce, but Benioff is tapping into a universal paranoia pervasive in business today - particularly with social media. And there is no shortage of people who are not ready or interested in change.

Last month I released a forecast for 2011, with the number one leadership challenge as “change management.”

Six Reasons for Failed Change Management Programs

On a related note, this fall Infosys, an IT Services Firm based out of India, conducted a change management study involving 50 Baldrige deployment programs. What Infosys found was there were six top reasons change management programs generally fail:

  1. Lack of leadership commitment.
  2. Lack of alignment to organizational goal and vision.
  3. Lack of planning.
  4. Lack of focus on execution.
  5. Lack of resources to drive execution.
  6. Lack of systems or tools and techniques to manage the change life cycle.

Lack of leadership commitment is the number one reason change management programs fail. Most leaders and businesses have the attitude “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Behaviors are driven by leadership. Therefore if the top of the house is not taking the change seriously, you can expect the entire company to reflect the attitude of the leader.

If a division is not incentivized by leadership it is likely the group will not adopt new sustainable behaviors.

In addition, many divisions or departments are set up to compete with one another. Reminding us of the number two reason why organizations fail at change management, “Lack of alignment to organizational goal and vision.”

It is the responsibility of leadership to create the story and share the vision with the various teams. And if necessary, engage the various teams every week, or every day if need be.

Fear & Jealousy Not Just For Soap Opera Characters

At my former job, my boss taught me a lot about change management. Gene Hong, one of the founding Partners of e-BIM, recently told me with regard to change management and social media:

The key to change management is buy-in from all groups that are touched by a new initiative. If the company's executive team decides to embark on an efficiency drive, they need to have their managers aware of the expectations, but more importantly, teach the managers how to communicate this initiative to staff. It sounds simple, getting everyone on the same page to work together to achieve a common goal, but when people are involved, it's much more complicated.

This is not a discussion about social technology. It’s a discussion about the smoke and mirrors within a company. And the fact that company challenges and politics are rarely black and white.

And it appears that more often than not, disagreements over change efforts are fought over money and power.

Senior level people generally want to do two things: keep their jobs, get their bonus. That is the reality of today’s environment. You can’t blame them. They are just trying to put bread on the table. But the problem arises when they become complacent -- when no one from outside is brought in to provide feedback to the company. Think General Motors.

Now with new trends such as social technologies, companies are having to challenge what they historically thought about management.

Gene Hong said of the human element within a company regarding change:

Human emotions, fear and jealousy are compounded by taking people out of their comfort zone. Today's business climate demands organizations to be agile so the best outcome is to build an organization of fearlessness. By fearlessness I mean faith in their skills as well as those of their peers and ability to adopt to any situation.

Fear is still fairly pervasive in most companies. There are only a handful of medium-sized enterprises that could be labeled as “fearless.”

Bad Data, Good Day

Let’s look at the contact center. The contact center is generally seen as a cost center. The c-suite is only concerned when the contact center reports coming across their desk look different. As long as the contact center is hitting its KPIs, no matter how counter intuitive they are for the customer experience, c-suite do not generally set foot in the contact center. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but after studying many contact centers, this is what I found to be true.

The contact center director wants to get their bonus, so this person does not tell the c-level executive that the KPIs used by the contact center are no longer relevant. That being said, the staff is never incentivized to provide a better customer experience.

Can you draw any parallels regarding why c-level executives don’t want to bother with social technologies?

Let’s Take It From The Top

I recently spoke with Corinne Sklar, Vice President of Marketing, for Bluewolf, a management consulting firm based out of New York that was the first partner to sign up and implement Salesforce technology and CRM solutions.

She said, “If you buy into the concept of the cloud--which is about consistent flexibility and innovation---how is your company structured to consume innovation?” That is possibly the most important question for 2011.

Have you heard the platitude “you are the only person in the way of your success”?

It’s the same with companies. A company is the only roadblock in the way of its own success. And many times the forces “trying to stop the fun” are internal.

The ones who have the power to make change easier are sitting in the boardroom. Many companies are lucky enough to have a small group of devoted individuals who want to change the organization for the better. But they have no shortage of challenges ahead of them.

And they will not succeed without continued support from the top.