Earlier this week I attended a Council’s Corporate Management Team meeting. They were grappling with the thorny issue of leadership of change, and we discussed several challenges and approaches which are relevant beyond this particular council to many others. None are particularly new but they are as important as ever in this era of continuous change:
- The value of good sponsorship should not be underestimated: almost every project encounters rocky patches, in particular differences of opinion between stakeholders, and the role of a strong project sponsor is vital in helping navigate a way through these issues. Make sure you have a clearly defined project sponsor who is clear about what the role entails – they need to be hands on, prepared to make tough decisions, and act as a visible champion for the change. Sometimes this can mean picking a sponsor who isn’t the ‘usual suspect’ but who can better fulfill the role.
- Have a clear vision of what you are aiming for: every change project sets out with a goal in mind, but it’s much rarer for this goal to be revisited as the project or programme evolves. We don’t advocate target operating models as the solution, but we do recommend that authorities make sure that the end-state they are aiming for (and what this looks like not just internally but for residents and partners) is very clearly defined and communicated.
- Leadership from the top needs to be strong and unified: the scale of change that authorities are undertaking is unprecedented, and staff are unsurprisingly nervous about its implications for them personally. All too often we see senior staff agree to a decision in a management meeting, but then lose confidence when it comes to reinforcing those messages and decisions in their departments. Like sponsorship, senior managers need to be clear about their role as leaders of change, leading by example and being honest with staff and other stakeholders.
- Genuine joint working between council teams and consultants is possible: one of the most enjoyable aspects of working with this particular Council was the genuine joint working between the BDO team and the council staff. That was helped partly by agreeing very clearly the roles for both teams, but mostly by a good fit in terms of style. We were all working towards a common purpose, and valued the skills and contribution made by all involved.
- Ensure you harness the skills of your top talent: every authority has rising stars and change programmes are a great opportunity for those people to show their skills. Make sure you know who these people are and find ways of getting them involved – not only will the programme benefit, but it’ll help change being led by the ‘same old faces’ and will help your rising stars feel challenged and motivated.
So on this Friday afternoon why not pause and think about these things – are you giving your change programme the best chance of success?