Organizational Change: What Executives Commonly Get Wrong

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

Leader Wrong Direction scaled

Now, more than ever (primarily because of the pandemic), organizational executives are clamoring for change within their organizations.

Most commonly, I am hearing executives saying that they need to become more agile.

This is great!

But, let us stop and ask ourselves, what does organizational change require?

What Organizational Change Requires

There are two books that I have read recently that get at the heart of what organizational change requires.

The first book is Quiet Leadership by David Rock.

In his book, he says:

“I believe that organizations can change. However, just like an individual, and like the brain itself, an organization can only be changed from the inside out. It won’t change because people tell it to. It needs to have widescale insights by itself and through this process make deep new connections. For an organization to change, it needs to create new maps to define how information flows between people and systems, and it needs these maps to become the dominant pathways along which resources flow.”

The second book is Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.

In this book, the authors state:

“Many, if not most, of the change challenges you face today and will face tomorrow require something more than incorporating new technical skills into your current mindset… [The change challenges you face] can only be met by transforming your mindset, by advancing to a more sophisticated stage of mental development.”

Together, these quotes suggest that change requires new maps, new connections, and new mindsets across the organization.

Where Executives Commonly Go Wrong

This is all well and good, in theory. But, “in practice,” it is a different story.

After working with dozens of companies, I am observing a common and troubling theme as organizations attempt to change. Let me break this down into steps:

Step 1

The executive team decides that they need to activate some organizational change in an effort to become more agile.

Step 2

The executive team goes to Human Resources and/or Training and Development (T&D) and says, “Bring in an expert to help us become more agile.”

Step 3

HR/T&D calls me up and we organize workshops for leaders and employees.

(Dirty little secret: Generally, these workshops do not include the members of the executive team)

Step 4

During the workshops, three things generally come up from those in attendance:

  • This is good and helpful at a personal level, but our executives have created a culture where we can’t fail (fixed mindset), we have to be right (closed mindset, we can’t have problems (prevention mindset), and we have to always shine (inward mindset), making it really difficult to try new things in an effort to be agile.
  • In order for us to be more agile, we need to feel more psychologically safe.
  • In light of this, are you doing anything to help our executive team to create a more psychologically safe environment for us?

Step 5

After the workshops, I go to the HR/T&D team and ask them if they can get me in front of their executive team to help them shift their mindsets to become more agile and to create this psychologically safe environment.

Their response is commonly: “Unfortunately, no. They always tell us that either they (1) are too busy to do any development workshops, or (2) don’t need any training” (but simultaneously implying that while they don’t need training, everyone else in the organization does).

Moral of This Article

The basic lesson that I am learning from all of this is: If executives want their organization to transform, they must transform themselves.

I hope this leads you to ask the question: what can be done to help executives transform themselves?

There are two ways that people (which includes executives) transform. It either comes through:

  • A crisis
  • Deep learning

I believe that the Covid-19 pandemic crisis is something that is making organizational leaders more open to change than ever before. So, the timing for instituting organizational change to create a more psychologically safe workplace from the top down may not get any better.

Leadership Team Mindset Cleanse

Also, I have developed a workshop program for top leadership teams (although it can be used for any team) called a “Leadership Team Mindset Cleanse” that combines both of these elements. It facilitates (1) a deep introspective dive at a personal and collective level to help the team members more clearly see how they are getting in their own way of the success they are seeking (revealing a previously unseen crisis), and (2) deep learning about the most foundational part of themselves: their mindsets.

I dd a Leadership Team Mindset Cleanse with a leadership team for a franchise about six months ago, and recently reconnected with the CEO. In this conversation, he said that the transformation in his leadership team has been incredible. In fact, he credits this Leadership Team Mindset Cleanse and their subsequent focus on mindset shifts as being the primary reason they will be one of the few (if not the only one) with a better financial year in 2020 than in 2019.

If you have any interest in exploring doing a Leadership Team Mindset Cleanse with your team or your organization’s leaders, connect with me through this link: Connect with Ryan

Subscribe for the latest posts

Sign up for updates

Subscribe to my weekly newsletter to accelerate your vertical development journey. Includes cutting-edge vertical development articles, tips, and resources.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join the Newsletter

Subscribe to my weekly newsletter to accelerate your vertical development journey. Includes cutting-edge vertical development articles, tips, and resources.