There’s been a lot of talk about change these past few years. Left unsaid however, is from what – to what? As a nation of “can-do” citizens when something within an organization isn’t working, the reaction is “let’s figure out how to change it so it will work”.
But change is hard and the route is circuitous, emotional and often results in failure.
A little over a decade ago, Seth Kahan was working at World Bank as an IT trainer helping employees understand, accept and utilize the internet – truly a paradigm shift for this not-cutting-edge organization. He was soon recruited by senior management to help them change the culture of the organization. The first effort “tanked” in Seth’s words. But the second one was a huge success and that changed culture is still evident today. That experience set him on a path to discover why change sometimes works and sometimes “tanks”.
In 2002, Seth used his research to open his own change management consulting practice based in the Greater Washington, DC region with a tag line “Visionary Leadership”. This year he published “Getting Change Right– How leaders transform organizations from the inside out” which became an immediate Washington Post Best Seller.
At the base is the recognition that successful change is about bringing people together: it is really managing the human element. During this time of relentless disruption in the economy, politics and business, Seth has seen a shift in the requests clients make of him. Six years ago, senior management of an organization would say “Here’s what we want to do so help us do it”. Today the calls are, “help my house is on fire: How do we cope, how do we adapt.” According to Seth, this is the foreseeable future and it is “painful to watch organizations in this country in such a state of anguish”.
Collaboration and inclusion are the common words Seth uses to describe change management. It is no longer possible for management to demand change. “Senior leaders need to reach out and engage their people”, according to Seth. “The old school CEO who believes they provide the paycheck and workers do what they’re told just doesn’t work anymore. Balancing the scale between authority and collaboration is a skill that successful leaders achieve.”
There are leaders and there are managers
What Seth finds as an outsider brought into an organization is that he can quickly spot the leaders and the managers. Often the senior management team members are not all leaders. “A leader exhibits an uncanny ability to handle complexity as uncomfortable as it may be. They are driven to find ways to make things work.” Seth continues that “some people just can’t think strategically, no matter what incentives are offered. They can be great managers but they cannot be great leaders.”
What Seth offers his clients is an outsider’s view through the CEO’s lens. He’ll talk to the top 25 thought leaders in his client’s industry and discover the top 5 trends. He then works with the senior management team to devise a strategy to meet these future challenges. His stated goal is “to help organizations of all sizes figure out how to go forward in this disruptive period”.
When asked for one piece of advice to pass along, Seth responds with his signature optimism. “Business is the engine that runs this great country and makes it work. It’s a hard time right now for everyone. Don’t give up. We can all get through this. The country needs you to be successful!”