Leader of Transformational Change

It is not difficult to move a chair from its original position near the door to a position close to the window. The same is true of changing the structure of an organization. Although changing an organizational structure is, of course, harder than changing the position of a chair, it is easier than changing an organization’s culture.

To change habitual behavior and attitude, the way of thinking and the way of viewing something are characteristics of transformational changes. A president director of a state-owned enterprise once likened transformational change to being converted in religion. It is difficult to do and changes everything. So, what kind of leader is needed in an organization undergoing transformational changes?

Before answering this question, one must convince oneself that a leader is a determining factor in the success of a change. According to a survey conducted by PPM Management Higher Learning Institute on executives in Jakarta, five factors determine the success of an organizational change.

Put in order of interest according to the respondents, the first position goes to a leader, followed consecutively by competent management (managers), a clear objective, a neatly drawn-up plan and clear communication. It turns out that a leader is not the only important factor in efforts to transform an organization. It is just one of the important factors. Still, some people insist that a leader is the only factor determining the success of a change. That being the case, this leader’s subordinates are indeed to be pitied!

According to author Burke (2002), transformational and simpler changes generally go through four phases, namely (1) the pre-launch, (2) the launch, (3) the post-launch and maintenance. In simpler changes, the first, third and fourth phases take place so quickly that people are not aware of them. A leader has a different role to play in each phase.

In the pre-launch phase, the organization is shocked at a change in its competitive position, which becomes no longer favorable to it. Its products lose their competitive edge and even become outdated. An example of this situation is found in the sea transportation industry. This industry is undergoing a crisis following the development of the air transportation industry. Another example is the ordinary camera, which has suffered a drop in demand because of the greater popularity of digital imaging technology.

Yet another is the fact that the sales of Yamaha motorcycles have exceeded those of Honda, formerly the all-time champion. During this phase a leader must never panic lest all members of the organization are affected. On the other hand, neither must a leader show indifference and give the impression that there is nothing to worry about.

According to Kotler (1996, 2005), three main things that a leader must do during this pre-launch phase are: (i) build (a sense of) urgency for a change; (ii) build coalition and (iii) draw up a vision and strategy about the change.

To build a sense of urgency for a change is the most difficult thing to do because for an organization that has all this time enjoyed success, the need to change is very difficult to accept, let alone to implement.

To change means to acknowledge failure. To change means a necessity to adopt a different behavior, attitude and viewpoint. How difficult it will be! Besides, change may not always be good for the company.

During this phase, a change in leadership frequently occurs. A leader is replaced not merely because his performance is deemed unsuccessful but rather because it is difficult for a leader to accept the necessity to change.

Church (1997) says that leadership is something personal. It starts with self-awareness. Only afterwards will the leader make other people (his subordinates) aware. To reflect this situation there is a saying that goes: One cannot light other people’s way until one lights one’s own.

Transformation is a radical change that causes an organization to completely change. Transformation is mostly triggered by the option of to die or completely change. However, “”To change into what?”” is a question that makes transformation not only very difficult to go through but also very high in its level of failure.

Imagine yourself in a situation in which the only way to survive is to change but you do not know precisely what this change will lead you to. Further imagine that in this difficult situation, the leader is a hesitant person.

During the launch phase, the organization moves toward an objective that has been set in tune with the vision of changes, using a previously drawn up strategy. Communication is an important factor in this phase.

A change is not the concern of only certain people; it is the concern of every member of the organization. In carrying out communication, a leader is expected not only to convey his ideas, but also to ensure that his subordinates and all the leaders at all levels in the organization agree to and support these ideas.

Church (1997) says that communication refers not only to “”heads”” but also to “”hearts””. Communication is not merely to make other people have a rational understanding about the change but also feel it is something that must be done.

During the launch phase, it is likely that a leader will have to face rejection from various work units and at various levels. This rejection may be individual or group in nature. It is also likely that this rejection is organizational in character. Theoretically, rejection may be caused by an incompatibility between skills and the demand for a change or by insufficient empowerment.

Burke (2002), however, also says that rejection comes from a decision linked with efforts to introduce a change, for example, massive work relationship termination. Like it or not, a leader must deal with this situation.

During the post-launch phase, an organization may enjoy euphoria, optimism and high spirits vis–vis confusion, fatigue and frustration. A leader seems to return to his position during the pre-launch phase. The difference is that in this post-launch phase, a great amount of time and energy has been spent.

If the change shows a good result, the leader must prevent his organization from getting carried away in the heady feeling of success as the objective is actually yet to be fully reached. If it turns out that the change fails to produce a positive result, the leader must show his toughness and patiently continue to endeavor to reach the objective. It should be remembered that a leader, be he tough or weak, can be an inspiration to his subordinates.

The president director of a state-owned enterprise referred to at the beginning of this article reminds us that to change your convictions means to “”convert””. This means not returning to the old habitual behavior and attitude, way of thinking and way of viewing things as all these have to be left behind. This is the challenge that a leader has to face during the maintenance phase.

To maintain achievements, there must be a new standard, a new system, new skills and, perhaps, also new leaders. The most important thing in this phase is to think about successors who will ensure that the organization continues to succeed.

It is not easy for a private company to find a successor that is imbued with the spirit of the organization but it is still easier than in a state-owned enterprise. The leaders of a state-owned enterprise in this country are frequently chosen by outside parties and represent the interests of the parties outside the organization.

However, you can often find in a private organization, a government organization, a state-owned enterprise and even in a non-profit organization that the leaders are unwilling to continue with and maintain what their predecessors pioneered and built.

The leaders concerned never acknowledge that the reason is that they would like to pioneer and build something that they can claim as their own or as the result of their own ideas or their own work output.

Such leaders, as Collins (2001) says in his book Good to Great (Harper Collins), now available in its Indonesian translation, will never be able to make their organizations great. Great leaders are people with great ambition in securing the success of their organizations and they became leaders because of the objectives of their organizations, not because of a desire to gain wealth, power or reputation.

Such is the leader of a transformational change. This leader can bring about great changes in his organization and in the people he leads. This leader can turn a company that is very close to or half-way to bankruptcy into one that will become a high-performing one.

Published on The Jakarta Post, September 05, 2007.

Ningky Risfan Munir blogDr. Ningky Munir, is lecturer in the Business Management Post-Graduate Program, PPM School of Management, Jakarta.

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