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Naggesh Desaraju: Leading Change – Based on real life experiences

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ndAbout the author: Naggesh is a graduate from the PLD program at Harvard Business School, and has obtained MBA and Second Master’s in Information Systems. He has a PMP from PMI in addition to being an Associate Management Accountant.

Naggesh establishes and executes IT strategies for Fortune 500 organizations including 3M, Sherwin Williams, First Energy and Acelor Mitthal. Naggesh has turned around the cast off technological investments into mission critical investments, invented two software applications used by traders and astronomers and is credited with personal contributions to effecting enterprise-wide culture change. Moreover, he excels in running IT–Business liaison, and has led large teams, planned and managed operational and capital budgets over $8M per annum. 

When he wishes to get away from his routine and official tasks for a change, he cherishes spending some time in perfect relaxation in his small library in the basement pouring over some of his collection of 700 odd books on varying subjects.

    * Leaders need to be continuously awake to an ever present need for change, and providing leadership to change – whether it is to make certain adjustment in the image an organization presents to the outside world or to gain competitive advantage or to bring about a complete transformation in upgrading a single department or the organization as a whole. The pivotal focus of the leadership for planned change may be modelled on the USEM concept with planning for Top-down Understanding, training, coaching and harnessing Skills while creating the proper Environment and Motivating. A leader would thus build up the support infrastructure for the change to make others accept the changes and make them willing and active partners themselves in the effective implementation of the change with the smoothest possible transition. All this need to be done while having uppermost in your mind the effects the change or even the very word “change” would have on the human resource – a highly critical factor in a firm’s productivity. Given below are a few instances where the achievement of objectives of a planned change could be greatly enhanced with a proper leadership planning & directing operations down-line.

    * Enunciating a vision and mission – spell out your vision and mission for the planned change precisely and concisely. However, it should be strong enough to captivate others also into your line of thinking and harness their full support at all levels and all stages for the change. Be alive to the fact that it is human beings you are dealing with, and knowledge workers to be precise. Whatever you say, to be effective, should be directed at their emotional intelligence; which is a long shot from rebooting a computer to make some installed changes take effect. The planned changes being communicated should be fine-tuned to match with the frequency of the thought processes of your knowledge workers. You should have the wisdom to go beyond the theoretical concepts, acknowledge the natural human tendency to resist change and visualize what emotional conflicts and revolutionary reactions are set in motion in the minds of the knowledge workers by your planned change. As such, your plans should include the strategies you would employ to rally them around your vision for the future to make them willing and happy implementers of your planned change.

    * Don’t introduce the proposed change bluntly and expect everybody to toe the line in blind obedience. Present the change in a wider perspective emphasizing on why the change is necessary,how it will benefit them and what it will look like after the change. A good strategy is to initially communicate the actual issues with full relevant background information to your most valuable players (MVPs) while taking the risk that they would not view the change as abstract. With that step properly executed, you make certain that other leaders, instead of being your opponents in this campaign for change; will in fact be your ambassadors for propagating your cause for change.

    * Use anecdotes to good effect: Its human nature to cherish stories; and they grasp any message better when presented as a story or a parable. All of us enjoy a high quality of life today because of changes made in the past in the spheres of communications, IT, electronics, engineering, medical science etc. These changes also help save thousands of lives daily shows us that some changes we enjoy today had been initially met with protests due to ignorance and inflexibility; and some have had to be even enforced by law; and now we are richer for them.

    * Talking Universally, many people would have protested against the splitting of the atom for its mass scale destructive power; and also protested against the development of LASER for the same reasons and advent of the computer fearing mass scale retrenchment of labor and loss of office jobs. But now we see that atomic power is used to drive massive ships, laser is used in medical surgery including eye surgery; and instead of reducing jobs, the computer has created many more job opportunities and information explosion etc. etc.

    * The actual plan implementation for the change is easiest to execute when you have other leaders also involved in the program from its very early stages. Maintaining excellent communications with other leaders and proper collaboration and coordination at all levels and all stages is pivotal to the success of bringing a smooth transition.  Encourage question asking of a constructive nature: allowing questions demonstrate that you are concerned, help build rapport and develop trust. Call for feedbacks and show appreciation of suggestions; and incorporate them where applicable. All this will make others feel that they are also part of the planning and decision making process; and not mere forced implementers or silent spectators.

    * Start building the aforesaid connections and allies by communicating your vision and plan top-down effectively from the inception. Everybody top-down should be taken to your confidence as far as possible, and given a feeling of belonging. Ignoring especially your MVPs from the start could often be fatal; and attempts to harness their support, only at the tail end of implementation could come too late.

    * Recognize your supporters and allies; and thank them. Be personable and consistent in your attitude and lead by example rather than precept by being punctual at all times, yourself.

    * Always promote new skills training by providing team leaders with necessary hands on training, training manuals, videos, equipment and accessories for the training/coaching of their teams. Follow up and obtain feedbacks to ascertain how the training improved their productivity.

    * Anticipate a drop in productivity initially just when you expect the opposite. Understand what a steep learning curve denotes and ensure that the motivational levels are on the up. Monitor the progress at all levels on a continuous basis; and be on the alert for risk factors including possible sabotage.

    * Understand that all leaders at different levels need good communication and motivational skills to motivate their teams regarding the necessity and benefits of the proposed change. Therefore, maintaining good two-way and group relationships, communications, and coordination down the line is very important.

    * Understand others’ reservations on changes including even resistance as normal and as factors to be won-over tactfully instead of meeting them with rigid counter resistance. Accept risks as normal and a natural offshoot of change.

    * Anticipate risks in the normal course of events, and have an effective monitoring program in place for their timely detection and neutralization in the bud, where possible.

    * Your communications should be precise, sharp and unambiguous. Have every comma and period in place and don’t leave any detail to chance in the preparation and implementation of any plan; incorporate all necessary revisions promptly and update when values change or errors are detected.

    * Never be prejudiced about the capabilities of other leaders or ignore their status quo. A hurt pride can react in the most unexpected and vicious manner, something that has often happened in organizations to their cost at times of significant transformations. Never underestimate the cost of losing even one human resource, if it can be helped.

    * Understand the damage that can be caused by rumors. Best way to avoid rumors from spreading is to keep no room for them by taking MVPs and other leaders to your confidence wherever possible from the inception, and show transparency in all your actions by educating them on all aspects of the plan from beginning to end.

    * Come out with plans generating small wins in the short term that will give cynics very little to shout about.

    * Be the first to acknowledge and felicitate others’ successes.

    * People always prefer to be led by example than precept; so stop talking your walk and start walking your talk.

    * Don’t indulge in too much wishful thinking – that only breeds too many cynics.

    * Executing major organizational changes can make anyone hot with sweat; so having an abundance of cool and a good sense of humor will greatly help. However, a leader who is conversant with and had laid out the groundwork for the planned change in the organization on the USEM model should walk through it with ease and confidence.

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