Leadership, transformation efforts in the disruptive age: is it difficult?

Leadership in everyday language helps make something amazing happen through social influence by gaining people’s support for it to happen. This definition can be common to both the public and private sectors, as examples of influential global leaders and successful entrepreneurs reveal. In this context, Dr. John P. Kotter’s eight-step transformational process for leading change is still relevant today, which involves (i) Establishing a sense of urgency (ii) Forming a powerful guiding coalition (iii) ) Create a vision (iv) Communicate the vision (v) Empower others to act on the vision (vi) Plan and create short-term gains (vii) Consolidate improvements and produce more change and (viii) Institutionalize new approaches. He also mentions that for the success of the transformation effort, the right actions must be taken at every step avoiding common pitfalls.

The process of transformation goes through a considerable length of time with a series of phases. For an organization to have transformational change, all the steps highlighted by Kotter must be followed sequentially. These changes fall under various banners ie; total quality management, reengineering, resizing, restructuring, cultural change, etc. This process of transformation is achievable in all jurisdictions as well as in institutions. Several jurisdictions like India and China underwent structural transformation at some point to achieve rapid growth. Multinational corporations such as Google, Apple, etc. had adopted a process of transformation at different stages of its growth to exploit the market to obtain high returns.

There is general agreement with Kotter’s fundamental framework and sequence, which are imperative for sustainable growth and overcoming an organization’s level of saturation. However, the framework must have a clear delivery method or detailed implementation protocols to drive change in today’s globalized world characterized by complex management process, dramatic innovations and its spread, disruptive technology, etc. Several factors may need to be incorporated in addition to common pitfalls of the Kotter transformation process, such as innovation, international markets, need for change analysis, disruptive technology, and implementation protocols.

Today’s information technology and industrialized world is characterized by innovations that are quickly imitated/diffused, despite being protected by intellectual property rights.

Innovation emphasizes the introduction of new things that bring benefits. This can concern markets, the production of goods and services, systems, processes, but also cultural behaviors, organizational structures and their management. Innovative organizations/companies without the required manufacturing and related capabilities may die, even if they are the best at innovation. Additionally, innovation secrets can be restricted to a few staff members (2 or 3) in the organization to prevent their spread. Although Kotter’s transformation process focuses on change, it fails to explain the vagaries of the innovation process.

Implementation protocols are lacking in Kotter’s transformation process, making it possible to understand the different levels of employees in the organization to personalize the change. This may include, among other things, tools and templates for each stage of the framework, a checklist, out-of-the-box guidelines for checking vision statements, developing performance indicators, defining quantitative metrics for implementation cycles, mechanism for tracking goal execution, effectiveness of implementation, employee rewards for successful change implementation .

Successful change can only happen if there is a genuine commitment to change with a sense of urgency or momentum, commitment from diverse stakeholders, openness in operation with an unambiguous vision, effort clear and optimal communications, strong leadership and a well-executed and dedicated plan. Kotter’s 8-step model of transformational change recognizes each of these vital characteristics. However, the same must be customized to the present times by incorporating modern management theories, modern technology as well as implementation protocols to achieve the best results. This involves articulating the connections between new behaviors and business success and creating leadership development and succession plans consistent with the new approach.

An innovative culture necessarily needs support from the top, that is; of an effective and far-sighted leader. Increased rewards for maintaining an innovative environment may include financial compensation – for example, performance-related pay and gain-sharing – or non-monetary rewards or recognition. Lack of resources is always a constraint to experimenting with innovative ideas. Innovative leaders often rely on the ability to see things differently, the variations/differences in terms of the basic story and collective thought patterns of employees or members of an organization; which can ultimately improve its capacity for innovation. Innovative leaders are successful in drawing information from the outside, including through benchmarking, site visits, and participation in professional networks. Innovative leaders draw their ideas from people at all levels and are good at experimenting and evaluating their experiences.

Surjith Karthikeyan is Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Finance. The opinions expressed are personal.

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