How to Lead the Metamorphosis As the economy has grown more uncertain, we've seen more and more about leadership and the transformation of corporate cultures in both the popular and academic press. A shrinking world market, new competition, and value shifts in the culture at large have forced management to reevaluate industrial position and policy. In that reevaluation process, people search for leadership that meets the requirements of a turbulent economic era; they seek ways to change their corporate cultures so that organizations can adapt to the times.
We--an external consultant and a plant and production manager--took part in such a transformation in an automotive component manufacturing plant in the midwestern United States. The transformation took five years, and the culture of the plant swung 180 degrees: from autocratic to participative, from restricting to opening up information flow, and from managing the status quo to developing new directions. Organizational employees at all levels now initiate actions they would have thought impossible prior to the transformation. They are searching out new markets, finding new ways of relating to suppliers, to customers, and to each other, and developing an improvement process that involves all members of the organization. As a result, productivity has increased--the plant is doing more with less--and the possibility now exists that the plant will be competitive with new foreign and domestic producers of the same products.
We have seen that transformation from different vantage points; this article describes our new insights into the management of change. Our first set of reflections outlines a model of leadership on a conceptual level and explains the human behaviors essential in managing the change process. Our other set of reflections is more concrete and specific, detailing steps taken by the plant's management team as it implemented new strategies to meet changing circumstances. In theory and practice, these reflections offer guidelines and examples for those following a similar path.
An emerging model of leadership
From 1982 through 1987, an external consulting team worked with the plant management to develop a program to assist the manufacturing operation's supervisors and most of the salaried workforce--200 in all--to manage the change process. In the course of the training, they worked together on material related to awareness, sensemaking, communication, planning, action, and evaluation. To explain the change process clearly for the rest of the organization and to define the behaviors demanded of employees, the team finally developed a simple description of the required leadership functions and the necessary steps for carrying them out.
In the description, leadership for change involved three broad goals: ] clarifying what matters; ] making what matters possible; ] creating a difference in the environment.
To reach those goals, the members of the organization involved themselves in six functions:
1. Increasing awareness. They increase awareness of themselves, others, and the realities of their business situation--they stop pretending that everything is OK as it is or that they have no power to change things.
2. Making sense of what they know. They make sense of the awareness of themselves, others, and their systems.
3. Communicating. They talk and listen to all involved, sharing information and generating ideas.
4. Planning. They make a strategy, establishing long-term goals and short-term objectives to achieve those goals.
5. Acting. They act without reservation to implement the plan and use contingency plans when they encounter roadblocks.
6. Evaluating. They evaluate their accomplishments carefully, identifying what worked and what did not work, and increasing their awareness so that they may build a foundation for the next …