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Solace blog

11th March 2016

How to bring about a leadership revolution

Sacha Romanovitch, our CEO, spoke at the recent Solace Leadership Forum about how the volatile and uncertain world that we now live in demands a leadership revolution. Sacha spoke of the need for collaboration between the public, private and third sectors to solve current and future problems and for leaders to give away control, allowing their people to have the space and the information to make great decisions.

So how practically can local authorities and their partners bring about this revolution of leadership and empowerment? At the heart of all of this is behavioural change – easy to say, yet historically difficult to embed consistently and sustainably.

It’s well known that many people don’t like change. We think that this is often due to how change is managed. Our experience, supported by detailed research, shows that people will change their behaviour if:

– they see their leaders behaving differently;

– they know what they need to change and want to do it;

– they have the skills to behave in a new way; or

– the systems reinforce and support the desired change.

Too often leaders expect change to happen around them and don’t engage in it personally. Leaders often need to change their leadership style to enable and embed a new way of working that is more agile, responsive and innovative,. Traditional leadership characteristics such as “I should be perfect and have all the answers,” little consultation and feedback, leading by instruction, not letting go, paternalism, fear of failure and risk aversion no longer fit the bill. To drive engagement, collaboration, and success, modern leaders need to be comfortable in not having all the answers.

They need to ask “how do we need to change, how as individuals can we improve?” Their leadership style will be characterised by consulting and engaging and they should be good listeners, open, honest, authentic and sincere.

In our experience, in order to make this shift and disrupt sometimes long-established ways of working leaders often need to invest in a programme of deep change that gets back to their core values and beliefs. This is often uncomfortable at the beginning, though can lead to sustainable personal change. Leaders can then naturally and consistently role model the new behaviours to show their people that they mean and live what they say, setting an example for others to follow.

Successful change relies on a defined purpose and an identified stimulus as well as a clear vision of the desired future state. Leaders also need to ensure there is the ability and the resources available to manage the change and a detailed plan to bring it all together. Modifications to systems to reinforce change should be planned for at this stage.

Any weak link in the chain will compromise the effectiveness of any change programme. We already know that leaders consistently role modeling the desired behaviours is an essential condition for effective change. For change to take hold throughout an organisation there needs to be an increasing number of passionate advocates, living the new organisational values every day and inspiring others to do so.

This is very different to traditional approaches to making change. In the past, in a less complex and ambiguous world, organisations could afford to cascade change through the hierarchy, step by step, layer by layer. In the modern world there simply isn’t the time and this approach to change becomes less effective due to the generational effect of fewer working people being prepared to accept change just because their boss demands it. It also fails to recognise the power of peer pressure in driving change throughout an organisation as no-one is far away from the influence of an
active “change cell.” There are some fantastic examples of organisations that have achieved rapid and successful change using the advocacy model.

It is essential to identify potential advocates from the start and give them early development to move them from awareness of the need for change to being an advocate for it. Like leaders, advocates need to be provided with all of the training and tools they need to further spread cultural change throughout the organisation. This includes facilitation skills, as well as coaching and mentoring. We regularly feel curiosity and enthusiasm beginning to build as people notice that the organisation is beginning to behave differently.

Research demonstrates that this is the most effective way to ensure cultural change. Critically, in an environment of perma-austerity the advocacy model has the benefit of ‘hardwiring’ change capacity into the organisation, minimising the need for external support when bringing in future changes.

We believe that the most successful and vibrant local economies of the future will be those where public, private and third sector bodies have set out a shared vision for their place, really built trust, identified their citizen-focused purpose and invested the time in learning, failing, developing and succeeding together.

By Paul Hughes, Head of Public Sector Leadership, People and Culture, Grant Thornton