Does this sound familiar?
Someone is newly hired into a position of influence or leadership at an organization. One of the first things they do is propose investing considerable resources into making a big change.
The organization says "yes!" because it's new and different, instead of evaluating the proposal on its merits. Time and money is spent, things are changed. And then the new hire moves on to another organization, leaving things in turmoil. Maybe someone else is hired and the process repeats. Oh no!
Maybe you've seen it play out in these ways:
- A new director of marketing wants to change the logo, tagline and reprint all promotional assets.
- A new website manager wants to change the underlying Content Management System.
- A new lead back-end developer wants to change the underlying software framework or database system.
- A new lead front-end developer wants to redesign the website from the ground up.
- A new CEO wants to change the company from distributed to centralized, or vice versa.
- A new HR manager wants to switch to a new payroll system.
- A new customer support manager wants to switch to a new support ticketing system.
- A new office manager wants to install a new phone system.
- A new finance director wants to switch accounting systems.
And so on.
Sometimes these changes are absolutely the best and most important things to happen at an organization. If it's been avoiding switching to better tools or processes because of apathy or fear, having a new voice in the mix can be just the thing needed to push everyone in a better direction.
But I suspect many times these kinds of changes are being used by the new hire as way to establish their value and power. They want everyone to know that there was how things were done before they arrived, and how things will be done moving forward. And if the new way is derived solely from their personality or preferences, everyone will need to depend on them to figure out best practices.
When these unhealthy dynamics are the driving force behind a big change it can be at best a huge disruption and waste, and maybe even an existential threat to the organization's work, services or products.
So how can an organization guard against a new leadership hire bringing change for the sake of change, while still remaining open to improvement?
- Make sure the proposal for change is documented and shared widely. Ask the new person to include enough detail that their thinking is clear. Give as many stakeholders as possible the opportunity to comment and discuss it.
- Ask if the new person has experience leading a transition of this type and scale, and find out how it went. If they've never overseen a change like this before, an organization should think hard about whether it wants to be a proving ground. And even if they have, check their references to make sure the end result was complete and effective.
- Quantify success. Make sure the organization knows exactly what key parts of its operations will be affected by this change, and how to measure (as in, with numbers) the impact to determine if the desired result has been achieved. Maybe it will be financial savings, maybe better client/customer satisfaction (as measured by standardized survey results?) or maybe it's just a measurable improvement in internal productivity and efficiency - but if it's just "life will be better for everyone, trust me," that's not good enough. Establish clear timelines for delivery milestones and the final transition.
- Encourage a consultative and collaborative change process. If the new person wants to plan, implement and test every detail of the change themselves, that could be a bad sign. But if they're excited to collaborate with their new colleagues as a way to learn about each others` skills and interests, and to seek ideas about the best way to do things, that can increase organizational buy-in, improve the chances of success and bring other extra benefit to the project.
- Ask what you would be saying "no" to. If a change project is going to require significant organizational resources (time, money, focus, infrastructure), ask what other projects you could be completing with those same resources in the same amount of time, and make sure you're choosing the right priority for what you're trying to do long-term.
Change is good. Change is essential. New perspectives and ways of operating should be regularly embraced. But an organization should be just as careful and intentional about substantial transitions when new leaders join up as they are at every other time.
Do you have any experiences with new people bringing big changes? How did things turn out?