Chad Luxenburg is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of scitrain ltd. scitrain’s global team of experts are improving lives, professionally and personally, through simulation-based leadership development programs, agile transformation journeys, executive coaching and digital tools. To learn more visit www.scitrain.com.
Leaders of scientific R&D organizations are struggling to navigate a rapidly changing world. Digital transformation is a major factor driving these changes. Though many CEOs have digital transformation at the center of their corporate strategy, organizations are encountering roadblocks to moving these initiatives forward. In fact, a recent McKinsey report predicts that within the next decade 70% of businesses will attempt to transform themselves digitally, but only 30% will succeed.
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Given this reality, the leadership principles of the past may no longer be effective for steering an organization to success in today’s dynamic market. To thrive in this new era, leaders can best serve their organizations by empowering a culture that embraces agility and constant change rather than relying heavily on more traditional change management initiatives. Organizational culture is built one behavior at a time over many years, shifting toward an agile change culture must also occur one new behavior at a time guided by effective change leadership.
Everyone has a role in organizational change
Historically, leaders across R&D have been accountable to drive change through a traditional top-down change management approach. However, this paradigm of leaders driving all change is becoming obsolete. A new model, dubbed change leadership, focuses on development opportunities that unleash the full potential of people across the organization to evolve culture and drive the change. Following this approach, senior leaders of today should be accountable for designing the vision and providing the framework to their teams, rather than being solely responsible for driving change and owning all the work associated with change.
Since the inception of scitrain over 15 years ago, we have consistently found that senior leaders who effectively enable organizational change possess two key attributes. They establish a powerful vision and strategy that energizes the organization to take action in a manner that supports pre-defined competencies and links agile transformation to business objectives. They also successfully model the behaviors that will encourage change on all organizational levels by supporting and adopting change principles, mindset and practices.
Enhancing change management with change leadership
Change management should no longer be used as a part of any organization’s vocabulary without change leadership. In the past, countless organizations have hired consultants to come in and “do change to people.” These consultants often offer one-time change efforts, drive decisions from the top down, and have a more linear approach to driving change across the organization. This approach has historically been prevalent in large scientific organizations. These types of change initiatives often fail to gain traction and endure due to unresolved concerns and internal resistance. They can also leave cultural damage behind that persists, hindering the organization’s progress for years to come.
The probability of success is significantly higher when leaders embrace a change leadership approach instead. Rather than focusing on strategy, structure, and process, senior leaders’ focus shifts to mindsets, behavior, capability and culture. Leaders who “do the changes with people” will have enduring change efforts that are propelled by many and not just a few. They will embrace flexible approaches based on learning as you go, and most of all, they will develop their people to be better prepared to lead the organization into the future.
CAS has embraced this approach to change in many ways. One example is their cutting-edge CAS Emerging Leadership Program. High-potential leaders are selected to participate in the program, which offers a variety of development opportunities over the course of several months. One of the program components is a three-day experience during which leaders go through a very difficult series of simulation exercises that align with organizational strategy and objectives. Each exercise mimics challenges participants might encounter in a stretch leadership role. While they are intentionally put into a state of cognitive overload by the experience, seasoned CAS leaders as well as external professionals from scitrain also scientifically evaluate their strengths and development areas. Each participant is then provided behavioral feedback as a basis to inform their ongoing personal development. These types of real-world development opportunities that give participants tangible experience navigating the challenges of change and help them enhance core personal and business skills to be effective in those situations are a critical component of building a change leadership organization. The results of these types of change leadership initiatives speak for themselves. CAS has seen double-digit increases in focus areas such as development, culture, and change in their latest PWC-administered employee engagement survey.
Applying change leadership to digital transformation
When it comes to applying change leadership to digital transformation in scientific R&D organizations, there are a number of key principles that you can apply to support success:
- Lead with vision first: It is easy to get wrapped up in the technology and tactics of digital transformation, but it all has to start from the vision. Make sure as a leader you define and share broadly your vision for why the organization needs to change and what the benefits will be for customers and employees at every level. What will the better future look like? If things get off track, revisiting the vision and objectives is often key to realigning the effort.
- Empower leaders to address concerns: Once you can measurably confirm that there is awareness and understanding of the vision, focus will shift to the tactical details. This is where challenging questions and resistance can arise. It is critical to ensure leaders at every level of the organization have the information and capability to consistently address the most common concerns. In the case of digital transformation, one that often comes up is the fear of “smart machines” taking the jobs that people are doing now.
- Communicate continuously: It is easy for new projects to kick off with a bang and then fizzle as new shiny objects gain priority. Regular communication vehicles such as in-person meetings or e-mail newsletters are valuable to maintain focus and keep the whole organization aligned on progress and any changes. It is also important to establish bottom-up communication channels as well to ensure that people at all levels of the organization have a venue for raising questions and concerns.
Adopting a change leadership approach is empowering the constant evolution of CAS, allowing us to partner with leading sci-tech innovators in new ways to accelerate discovery in the face of rapid change. Whether you need high-quality data or custom consulting to drive success of digitalization, machine learning or predictive analytics projects, CAS can help.