I have to make a confession…
Because just like most professionals, in most industries, when I talk about change I overuse the term “change management,” especially when sharing tips and advice for supply chain transformation.
In this post I want to make amends, correct myself and talk about what your supply chain organisation really needs to make changes happen—and make them stick.
It’s not good change management that you need, because that only requires the capability to coordinate and organise, skills which your company probably has aplenty within its ranks. If change management was the secret sauce to successful supply chain transformation, surely fewer companies would have such a hard time making it happen.
Transform Your Supply Chain with Good Change Leadership
What really makes transformation efforts successful is the mix of skills and attributes which together, make up the discipline of change leadership and equip supply chain leaders to make change management work.
Change leadership is ingredient which, if present in your organisation, can give you a major advantage when dealing with the constant state of flux in the supply chain and logistics theatre.
It’s also the ingredient that’s missing in many companies, or if present, is not applied sufficiently within the supply chain operation. But if your company is suffering from a lack of change leadership, don’t worry. It’s an issue that can be remedied.
All you need to do is invest a little in your key leaders’ development by giving them access to practical education and training in the principles required for change (as opposed to general) leadership.
The Change-leadership Principles That Matter
So what are these all-important principles that separate change leadership from the more structured aspects of change management? Here’s a quick summary which will give you some idea of the soft skills and attributes on which to focus your training efforts:
Work with the organisational culture: Good change leaders know that cultural transformation takes a long time. So when implementing changes, they’re careful to work with the existing culture. They know how to find cultural elements that are aligned with the change, highlight those elements through smart communication, and so mobilise positive cultural energy to help drive the change through.
Align the leadership first: Change leadership requires a willingness and ability to canvas and persuade the most senior business leaders, ensuring they are aligned with the case for change and the plans for implementation. Executive communication skills are therefore vital, especially given that a lack of effective executive sponsorship is the cause of many failed change programs.
Go slow to go fast: When the senior people in your organisation are onboard with your change plans, it can be tempting for change leaders to move ahead as soon as possible—without taking time to engage those in the lower levels of the hierarchy.
However good change leaders know this to be a mistake. Instead they take as much time as is reasonable to engage the mid-level and front-line employees. A penchant for patience and engagement of the workforce may result in a slower start to your projects, but will ultimately save on the overall time to implementation.
Foster the emotional connection: Real competence in change leadership is as much a product of emotional as managerial development. Your change leaders should be able to generate calls-to-action that engage hearts as well as minds, to connect people emotionally with the benefits of change.
Think into the New, not out of the old: Change leaders need to be behaviour leaders. Instead of trying to think the business’ way out of old habits and behaviours, they model behaviours that support the new way of doing things. This helps middle managers and staff to see that the organisation is really committing to the changes taking place.
Leverage formal and informal leaders and solutions: Change leaders need to be effective delegators and to know that persuasion is more powerful than coercion. Their skills enable them to engage the help of informal leaders—the people who hold power without holding powerful titles—and informal solutions, like the use of pride builders and trusted nodes.
There’s no Step-by-Step Path to Change Leadership
Like any form of leadership, the primary skills required to apply change-leading principles are non-technical. The necessary competencies are not easily acquired through step-by-step training processes like those used for training harder skills.
Instead, it’s better to use training methods that draw from real-world experiences. That doesn’t mean your future change leaders must learn by trial and error though. There are practical routes to change-leadership proficiency that don’t require exposure to live scenarios; which are in any case better experienced as a way to practice what has already been learned.
Sources of Change-leadership Knowledge
It doesn’t hurt to be imaginative when you’re seeking sources of change-leadership education. There are of course, plenty of dedicated programs provided by universities, colleges, business schools, and private training organisations.
For your supply chain leaders though, you might also consider some of the following less-obvious sources of change-leadership knowledge:
- General supply chain training programs which include change-leadership topics
- Supply chain conferences and events with leadership-themed keynotes and presentations
- Scheduled coaching and training days, such as our own Supply Chain Leaders Insights event
- Professional peer groups and networks
- Professional change-leadership coaches
- Experienced change leaders within your own company
The last option on the list above will depend on whether you have any experienced change-leaders within your company. Remember that you don’t need to restrict your search to supply chain functions.
Leaders from other areas of your business can in fact, help your future supply chain change leaders to broaden their knowledge and adopt/adapt ideas and principles they might not otherwise acquire. The beauty of change leadership is that successful practices can be applied universally, surmounting functional boundaries.
You Can’t Have Too Many Change Leaders
Change management is a process like any other, and shouldn’t be confused with change leadership, which is what you really need to run that process effectively. As professionals, we might be guilty of using the two terms interchangeably, but that’s no excuse for making a similar mistake in execution.
If you’d like to fast-track some of your people to become effective leaders of supply chain change, take a look at the Supply Chain Leaders Academy website, and see if the program is a good fit for your managers and staff.
Remember too, that Supply Chain Leaders Insights is coming up soon in Sydney and Melbourne, where prominent leadership figure Ingilby Dickson will share tips for leading transformation and improvement, along with other important issues for senior supply chain professionals.