Nov 28 2018| Leadership
by Phil Eyre Founder
Continuing its relationship with the Centre for Army Leadership (CAL), Leaders recently sponsored the 2018 CAL annual leadership conference. The event was hosted at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and attracted 900 people from military, civil service, sports, third sector and business.
Before the event, one of the event organisers, Major W J Meddings spoke to Phil Eyre about his leadership experiences and the event’s theme - leading successfully through change.
PE: I think I never particularly saw what was happening as ‘change’. It simply ‘was’. We were speeding through exciting ventures. I think we took it as read that if you wanted to be successful, you needed to pick up new things, whether those things were new products or new opportunities. This meant that the features of the company, its policies and processes, needed to rapidly flex themselves. Change was part of our DNA in such a fast-paced environment.
PE: I think that those businesses that approach change with the attitude that change is normal are those that succeed. Change is always happening. Yes, it is testing, but it is always there whether it is large or small. Things are always moving.
That is why businesses and leaders that have a ‘change is normal’ mindset deal with change exceptionally well. Whilst projects flow from the changing conditions, they are not ‘change projects’. They are just projects that take the business forward.
The businesses that struggle the most tend to sit back and wait, and wait, and then change becomes a project to be implemented. At this point, the change becomes a set-piece project that exists outside the context of normal, ongoing, business movement. In these circumstances, the end result is rarely something I would refer to as a success.
PE: I think that is an interesting question. It is partly the resistance. I have often heard that ‘people don't like change’ and there is some truth to that. It is especially true if you broach the change by saying ‘look I know you're not going to like this...’ But if the environment and culture are of actively looking to improve, to grow, to challenge and to change, even in only small ways, then you do not get quite so much resistance.
The second part is that some leaders change because they spot that if they do not, they will fail. Of course, this is still better than not changing. But it is far, far worse than a culture that anticipates the future and that seeks change rather than reacts to the present.
PE: At the Leaders Consultancy, we tend to see some of these risk factors through the human data analytics that we collect. So, we can spot whether a leadership team is good at anticipating the future or whether they are more reactionary. We will also see whether they are curious and whether they are agile which allows us quite accurately to predict their approach to changing environments. That then allows us to tailor consulting advice to their needs. But the aim for us is always to create a learning culture within the organisation. The whole business, top to bottom, must expect to learn, grow and flex all the time. Even if those changes are just minor changes to a typical working week, the ability to continually learn is what underpins the ability to deal with change. If your mindset is one that always looks for improvements and opportunities to grow, then you are, almost by definition, more change-ready.
PE: There are. One change we see a lot is in what you might call the ‘employee life cycle’. There is a huge change in the way companies recruit, retain, engage and develop their people. These days it is well understood that significant investment must go into getting the right people in the right place. It's becoming increasingly recognised that it is essential to get people with leadership skills in the right place in an organisation.
PE: There is one critical piece of advice I consistently give to executives during a fast-paced or significant change. It is crucial that the leaders who are leading the charge take time and space out of the immediate business to see things from a bigger perspective. That is very, very hard to do because during change there are always significant competing demands on your time. It is easy to get caught up in the here-and-now when it is critical to take time out to look at things from afar.
So, I consistently tell executives to take time out and to go off-site. They need to build time and space to think into their usual routine. Only when you do this can, you can see things clearly. A change of pace and a change of place can bring a change of perspective. Leaders must do this when going through significant or fast-paced change.
PE: I think by far the best book that I have read on change is The Change Catalyst by Campbell Macpherson. It is loaded with practical tips. He starts by highlighting that 89 per cent of change projects fail and then articulates how a leader can avoid replicating those failures. It is a strong book with some very practical and easy steps. I would recommend it to leaders going through change.