For change to cascade in an organization, its leadership must be truly aligned and must clearly and respectfully communicate the need to change to employees, as well as solicit their feedback.
Leadership Alignment. Leaders are role models. If they try to fake leadership alignment, employees will pick up on it and the change will derail. In order to drive success, leaders may need to change how they behave. They may find the process uncomfortable if they have never been accountable for cooperative goals beyond their line responsibilities. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, executives “must be the change you want to see.”
Unfortunately, many companies “pass Go” before leaders are aligned. Personal agendas override corporate goals and mistrust spreads. Leaders frequently need to “go slow to go fast” by asking a few probing questions: Are leaders really aligned? Would they describe the company’s goals and the means of achieving them in the same way? Can they clearly articulate the required leadership behaviors?
Employee Engagement. A cascade is the best way to ensure that the vision, expectations, and responsibilities are fully debated and embraced by the organization. In its absence, employees frequently do not understand the need to change, are not given clear guidance on their new roles, and have little say in design and implementation. Conflicting signals tend to fill the void. Leaders can change the game by orchestrating a cascade of communication, feedback, empowerment, and motivation.
Communication. Traditional forms of corporate communications, such as e-mails to employees and town hall meetings, are important but insufficient. Managers need to have one-on-one conversations with their direct reports about decisions, directions, and actions. The content of these conversations should be consistent with the overall change program. By spending time individually with each direct report, a supervisor conveys the importance of the initiative and demonstrates respect.
Feedback. Leaders need a structured way to receive feedback from across the organization, while employees need a way to let their leaders know how the change is proceeding and being perceived. Three critical questions must be asked: Has senior management put in place feedback loops to solicit unbiased input from the front line? Are there defined mechanisms to monitor critical change initiatives and the progress of the cascade itself? If elements of a change effort start to falter, does the organization react swiftly to put them back on track?
Empowerment. Leaders need the active participation of employees to bring their vision of change to life. This degree of freedom will vary. As a rule, however, people will accept change more easily if they have a meaningful say in it.
Motivation. People will generally make the right choices if they have the right information, goals, and incentives. Compensation, career tracks, and rewards may need to be adjusted during a change initiative. Motivation should not be just about monetary benefits. Awards, publicity, and promotions can all be amazingly effec-