So often in my career, I have seen the best ideas get sidelined, smart risks not taken, and current organizational inertia stop the momentum of truly important business initiatives. I sit here wondering what makes this happen, in hopes to prevent it in my current organization.
A story tells way more than me pontificating on the philosophy of change. When I worked at Procter & Gamble, in our Cosmetics division, being a brand manager required a heavy dose of analytics and core business strength. I had recently moved over from a finance background, so this played to my strengths. Several months into the job, as I was learning more about the business, and felt more comfortable about understanding my new job, I realized that the sales trend in one of our product lines was dismal. Given the complexity of our business, this wasn’t an obvious conclusion. We had been shipping in product to our retailers, and sell-thru was horrible. The product had been on the market for about a year, and we needed an intervention, and quickly. The great thing about being a marketer is that it is my job was to figure out and recommend how to fix it, in partnership with my sales peers. I knew it would be an uphill battle to invest more behind the product, but despite that we came up with a strong marketing plan with general advertising, retail promotion and a sampling plan. And, after proposing a relative affordable and conservative plan to our executive leadership, we got the fastest no that I had ever experienced.
Why? I am sure there was a lot to the “no” that I couldn’t see, but as I reflect on it, much of it had to do with organizational inertia. We did not make investment decisions lightly as a company. The degree of analytical rigor needed to gain alignment, and proof in return-on-investment, made most initiatives get stopped in their tracks. Our then president, had built a number of systems and process stage-gates that decisions must move through. In the process, needed change didn’t often happen. The organization was brilliant at change management, but in an effort to “manage” the change, great decisions were getting left behind.
It is so easy to fall in this trap as a leader. Sometimes we want to control things versus empowering ideas. The more I am in my current job, the more I find myself spending my free time thinking about how to unleash ideas. My organization is built to deliver results, and sometimes we hold ourselves a little too accountable, with a little too much rigor, and thus miss the creativity and the idea flow needed to drive future success.
At this stage in my career and my job, I recognize both the strength in the “change management” skill but also the need for “change leadership.” John Kotter, the resident expert in the topic, describes the difference in these two skills in an article that i read years ago. One of my favorite quotes in the article is about change leadership as an engine.
“Change leadership is much more associated with putting an engine on the whole change process, and making it go faster, smarter, more efficiently.” – John Kotter
As leaders, if we think of our role in change leadership as finding the right change, and adding the engine through our people, we will accomplish so much for our teams and our companies. With this will come failure, and lots of learning, but hopefully a lot more success. So, my commitment for this evening is to lead change within my organization.