Leading Change

Tough economic times are ahead. Indeed, some companies have already faced some bumps. Others have realized that they need a change in direction to stay relevant in a changing economy. Whatever reason a company may have for change, one thing is clear—change won’t happen without the right kind of leadership.

Often, the focus of leadership isn’t technical, it’s people. And the first person to change may just be yourself. Andy Gravitt, vice president, Automation and Control, Schneider Electric, in Palatine, Ill., says, “The first and most important thing about leading change is to see and believe that you need change. A lot of times that’s not easy. You’ve been doing things that way for a long time. Maybe once that was good and you were an industry leader. Many people want to live in those days. So first, you must see and believe yourself, then you must convince others.”

Vision and strategy are important, but only after you realize that your organization must change. When you decide you must change, then you must figure out what the new company will look like—what its product portfolio contains, what markets are important, what approaches to the market make sense. Reading any of Jack Welch’s books, you can see how hard the former chief executive officer of General Electric Co. worked to get across one vision to the organization. He honed the vision for the year into a simple message that he repeated to every person in every meeting in the company.

Implementing the vision in actionable chunks is another key factor. Says Gravitt, “For us, it was important that we didn’t come up with a vision that was more than we could handle. We have significant competitors who have strong leadership points, so we needed to bite off what we could. We focused on areas where we could be successful. Next, it’s important that the vision resonate with your people—not just within the company but with customers, distributors and integrators, too. You have to get the whole value chain singing the same song. You can’t just introduce a vision. You have to communicate it over and over.”

Communication takes persistence and dedication to the message. Gravitt relates that early on in his current mission, he had a distributor who struggled with understanding the company’s commitment. “I met with them two-and-a-half years ago, then again every three months or so until I could prove that we were actually doing what we said we were going to,” he relates. Reinforcing the message was a quick product development of the first generation new controller. It was a quick win that helped reinforce the message and show the company’s commitment.

Rough seas

Biting off the smaller chunks and getting quick wins are only the first steps in change leadership. Change is a long-term proposition. Only leaders who are in it for the duration will succeed. Gravitt likens the process to taking a long cruise. Some days, the sun is shining, the seas are smooth and you make a lot of progress. Other days, the seas are rough and progress is slow. “Those are the hardest days when you have to have a stomach for change. You knew you needed it and knew where you wanted to go, but you’re not necessarily doing the change 100 percent of the time. Those are the days when you don’t want to let the attitude get you down. You’ve got to portray a positive attitude. You also need some blind faith.”

Finally, leaders must surround themselves with the right people and get alignment in the organization. “Leaders must fill in the blind spots in the organization,” concludes Gravitt.

Gary Mintchell, gmintchell@automationworld.com, is Editor in Chief of Automation World
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