Question: How do you get leadership to see the sense of urgency to change the business and prepare its talent for the future?

I am an HR leader of a conservative business group. The co. runs the way it did 10 years ago, with no plans to change. Traditional top-down management style. Command and control.

Though many of our businesses have market leadership, the mega-trends (technology, demographics, globalization, product/services need to be flexible) are already affecting the business, will continue to escalate over the next few years.

How can I help the company change?

4 Expert Insights

I'm assuming you aren't a C-officer and don't have any formal power to impact overall company direction. Otherwise you probably wouldn't be asking this question, you'd be asking about details on the implementation plan you were putting in place.

As I see it your options are:

1) Be a petunia in an onion patch. This is also known as the voice crying in the wilderness strategy. Keep letting people know what you think needs to happen and how it should be addressed. Do what you can in your sphere of control. Engage and encourage those within your sphere of influence to do the same. If you do so with tact and respect, you might be able to change enough minds soon enough to keep the company from crashing into reality.

2) Polish your resume and make your exit before the reality crashes into the company...

3) Sit back and watch in fascination as the reality crashes into the company. Maybe you will get enough information to write a best-selling book out of it...

4) Similar to "1" - but consciously focus on expanding your sphere of influence into the C-suite. Stand firm on your convictions, but be as helpful and supportive of the members of leadership as your convictions will allow. Demonstrate that your first concern is the well-being of the organization. Be right - a lot - to gain credibility. Don't be afraid to say "I told you so" when your advice is followed and it works. Be careful and quiet (1-to-1 quiet) about when your advice isn't followed and it goes wrong.

Hopefully your influence with the leadership will grow faster than the crash is coming. As you become their trusted adviser, they will be more likely to listen on the critical issues to avoid the crash.

Good luck in whichever path you take.

The short answer is to frame the discussion not about change but about modeling for the anti-fragile. This is a method of management restructuring that I have advocated for a number of companies. Without going into excessive detail in this brief, the essence of anti-fragile modeling is based on structuring internal systems to be positively responsive to random events. There are a number of practical and simple steps that can be taken that don't require large scale change programs that meet this goal. These steps range from using something called the lambda formula to measure internal communication, converting goal design programs into fuzzy parameters, etc...

It seems safe to assume that when you say your business group is conservative, you're saying they are risk averse. Perhaps the simplest path to mobilizing your company would be through scenario planning, where the mega-trends you have mentioned could be extended 5-10 years into the future and the consequences to your businesses imagined in best-case, worst-case, and status quo scenarios. In my experience the status quo extended scenario (company makes no changes in response to changing business environment) is generally quite similar to the worst-case scenario. It should not be hard to see the risk involved in doing business as usual when the rules of the game are all changing.

Scenario planning will not happen without getting agreement of your senior leadership to take the time for some sincere dialogue about the future of the company. Our construct of organizational roles and responsibilities - operating level produces the product/service, coordinating level supports the operating level and coordinates across boundaries, and the strategic level attends to the external environment and future requirements - would say that is precisely what senior leadership's job is!

As far as changing from top-down/command and control, start with data. A good friend and long-time colleague, Jim Haudan of Root Inc, likes to say, "People will tolerate your conclusions, but they will act on their own." The abundance of recent data that relates high-performance of organizations to the degree of employee engagement ought to be excellent ammunition.

You are the champion of this change.  I will also assume you do not have sufficient organizational clout to be the sponsor of the change. You need allies:  start with whoever would seem most sympathetic and build the support you need to get your sponsor - the person who does have the clout necessary to initiate the desired change.

It sounds like you have a desire to “sell” some organizational & leadership change initiatives that would benefit the business & the executive team isn’t “buying.” To give specific advice, I would need to understand how compelling your argument is, the efforts you have made to build acceptance, & how strong your personal credibility with the senior executives is. I have no silver bullet advice.

The easiest thing to fix & probably the least impactful is the quality of the case you make. It’s important to use metrics, prepare it in the language of the business (& not HR “foo-foo” language,) and to link it to business goals.

To build acceptance, you may need to meet individually with executives, ask about their needs, the changes they are trying to make, and ask if they have any suggestions on how you can help. It would also be good if you could show them some key people metrics for the organization & ask if they are satisfied with the results. Then, you can have a follow up meeting with them to share your ideas & link them to what they told you they needed. I would also suggest that you may have more success selling small pieces of the big picture solution rather than trying to sell a massive change effort. You don’t have to sell it all at once. They may choke on the total solution.

The most important lever you can use to influence them is your personal credibility. There are some important personal traits you must develop.  It is also important to create some small personal wins in the space you are allowed to play. Developing relationships & credibility takes time. Grey hair also helps.

Finally, I defer to the wisdom of Peter Drucker that I have posted in another answer on this forum. He said; “Every decision is made by the person who has the power to make the decision. Make peace with that.” I would add to Peter Drucker’s wise words; “Make peace with that or find another organization where the executives feel a need for the kind of changes you want to make.”