Leadership’s Role in Transformation

By: Adam Kling

Organizations use performance management systems to reward and recognize results an individual achieves over the course of the year, as well as the behaviors used to achieve those results. 

When assessing behavior, organizations typically use a set of leadership competencies and a rear-view mirror approach (e.g., how an executive led last year) versus a more forward-looking approach (e.g., how the executive will lead this year). The upside to using a defined set of leadership competencies is that they provide a common language and framework for everyone throughout the organization to use when assessing an individual’s behavior. But what happens when these competencies are not focused on the most essential leadership behaviors required for success? In our work with senior executives who have led their organizations through a significant transformation (e.g., merger, repositioning the business because of a new competitor, culture change), we see this all the time.

The success or failure of an organization’s ability to transform is 100% dependent on the ability of the individuals within to think, manage, and lead differently. Since organizations change when people change, leaders must be focused on changing behaviors—both theirs and others—during a transformation. However, many organizations do not apply this way of thinking with the rigor and discipline it requires; the result is underperformance and the transformation efforts being stalled. For example, it is much easier to scrutinize and review the details of a strategy that did not produce the expected results in a new market than it is to examine how one’s leadership capabilities affected the situation. The latter is much more personal and easier to avoid because the root cause can lie deep within the individual, making it difficult to identify and discuss.  

There are the fundamental and obvious leadership behaviors that are needed during any transformation (e.g., establish a vision, inspire and motivate employees) that are integrated into most leadership competency models. While these are necessary, they are not sufficient for success. The fact is, transformation is messy and the final destination is not always clear. So, along with the fundamentals of leading others through the transformation, there are also essential leadership behaviors that are unique to the specific situation that an executive must possess to be successful. For instance, executives who are charged with acquiring and integrating an organization of equal size would face a different set of business and leadership challenges, as compared to one who must alter the business and people strategy, cost structure, geographic footprint, etc. because of a new and more nimble competitor. 

When it comes to leadership competencies and transformation, it is important to remember two things:

  1. Organization transformation is predicated upon behavior change, which starts with executives at the top examining and developing new leadership behaviors.
  2. Leadership competencies do not always measure and drive the most critical leadership behaviors for executives during a transformation.

Adam Kling is speaking on this topic at the 2016 SIOP Conference on a panel called Revolutionizing Performance Management. In the session, he will share examples from his consulting experience along with others from Ticketmaster, Walmart, and PwC.



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