In the last two years, the pandemic and social unrest forced companies to adapt—and quickly. The operational restructuring was key to survival for many. Inflation and an economic slowdown are creating new headaches that demand more corporate attention. Change often presents execution and performance challenges, such as missed milestones, quality control issues, and lack of innovation. Leaders can mistake these for operational or process issues, when, in fact, they usually happen because of a lack of cultural and organizational alignment.
As an organizational strategy advisor, I help clients understand how they can solve business problems and navigate through important transformations and developments. Often, leaders are focused on their vision for change and forget to involve and get buy-in and alignment from their teams.
Building alignment takes time. It requires engaging employees and other stakeholders, but that initial time and effort more than pays off with increased focus, engagement, enthusiasm, and growth.
After two years of being remote, our ways of working have changed, and old solutions may no longer hold true. When you’re launching a new operating strategy or plan, here are three steps you can take to make sure it’s successful.
Take everyone with you
When something is not working properly, leaders tend to change the organizational structure and governance, when they should focus instead on generating buy-in and alignment on a way forward. Companies can get stuck in transitions without thinking carefully about why they are starting a new project, who should be involved in decision-making, and how they can engage people to make change happen.
For example, one of my clients, the CEO of a tech company, announced that they would be switching to a modified agile structure to fix execution issues and a lack of speed. This surprised the leadership team, but most of all, the COO, who didn’t believe they were prepared to make that decision. However, the COO was given responsibility for designing and implementing the new structure. The effort was pushed down within the organization and faltered without executive support. Eventually, the company made some small changes, but the project had minimal impact.
Since the CEO did not consult with the executive team, the project was unlikely to succeed from the very beginning. It revealed that there was a lack of collaboration, transparency, and trust at the executive level. Before you enforce a new organizational structure, spend time building alignment and buy-in within your team to make sure it will succeed.
Often, leaders and companies go out of their way to protect their entrepreneurial roots and what they stand for, but unintentionally create operational inefficiencies. As the company grows, its culture must also evolve with it (or even ahead of it). In times of change, through growth initiatives or significant acquisitions, it’s important to assess any gaps that need to be addressed and how this may change expectations from leaders and employees. Organizations that help their employees embrace and adjust to periods of change constantly experience higher engagement and productivity.
Another company I advised, a high-growth tech company, wanted to ensure that their company had a great work culture and was highly regarded in the industry. To empower employees, they assigned Directly Responsible Individuals (DRIs) who were accountable for tasks or projects. The system worked well until the company grew to between 200 to 500 employees and things started to come apart at the seams. Leadership had to make a difficult trade-off between efficiently scaling the organization (and potentially disempowering employees) and staying true to the entrepreneurial spirit that defined who they were. Ultimately, the company found a solution by keeping the DRI system and introducing a new planning cadence and process to track projects and decisions.
Time for leadership change
Sometimes, your company’s success requires a different leadership style than what’s currently in place. Leaders must be deeply honest and self-aware about whether their leadership style is the right fit for the organization, and adapt to what their teams need, or even step aside.
I often see leaders face a false trade-off between not doing anything and letting a suboptimal situation continue, or making changes too quickly and facing disarray, swirl, and a new set of performance challenges. It’s important to put changes in motion and be patient because building alignment and buy-in takes time, but they will always put you on the path toward growth.
One client, a founder of a high-growth tech unicorn, assembled a great team of leaders with impressive credentials and success stories. But, unfortunately, the leadership team struggled with a lack of alignment, mistrust, and conflict. Although they led their own teams with finesse and a steady hand, they had to shield their teams from the chaos at the executive level, which inadvertently created subcultures and division between teams. This led to limited coordination and movement of talent between departments, and many people leaving the organization. The leadership structure did not serve the company or its people, and negatively impacted its culture and performance.
Organizational changes require more than a great strategy or North Star—they must involve and engage people at all levels of the organization, be honest about the changes that need to be made, and evaluate whether the current leadership are the right people to help you get there.
Monika Szamko is cofounder and chief organizational strategist at Considea Consulting, where she focuses on complex challenges while helping her clients accelerate and scale. A guest lecturer and thought leader, she focuses on educating future and current C-suite leaders about organizational alignment and the right corporate culture for optimal business impact.