I spend a lot of time whining and writing in our blog about poor leadership and how organizations usually screw up transformation and learning programs. I’m writing this time about how transformations are being done correctly in a series of blog posts about an organization that is transforming and is mostly doing it right.
Of course, I will start my story of transformational success with a caveat that there is no such thing as a perfect organization … but this organization has done a really good job with its transformation during the past several years. This organization is one of the larger health insurance companies which means that it is facing an incredibly volatile and complex market. We have been working with them for about five years.
Here are some of the things they are doing right:
- -The leadership team decided that the company must either change or die well before they were actually in dire straits. They are not in the situation where there is an immediate threat, but they were smart enough to look ahead and come to the realization that, “the only thing for sure is that we don’t know anything for sure,” so they needed to be ready both for the most probable disruptive changes as well as building change resilience in face of the unknown.
- -The leadership team communicated in many ways that business as usual was not OK and that everyone needed to get on board with the idea of constant change. Even though their organization operates in an intensely transactional environment they committed to transformational change, accepting the risks of premature change over waiting too long until it was too late.
- -They followed through on their commitment by funding and otherwise explicitly supporting key change initiatives (using our Cerebyte methodology) such as:
- – In response to the Affordable Care Act, they restructured their entire US operations – organizational structure, product offerings, IT systems, everything — to position themselves for a variety of possible futures.
- – In response to disruption in the market for prescription drugs (if you are on one of their plans, you can get prescription drugs through their pharmacy), they instituted a leadership development program for all directors and first line supervisors aimed at how to lead in their increasingly complex environment.
- – In response to the vast diversification of the physician, clinic, hospital and other business models, they developed and implemented a program for all of the personnel working with or in support of these providers to convert from an often adversarial relationship to a true partnership.
These are just a few of the initiatives that they undertook as an organization.
During the process for each of these initiatives, the Discovery process was done by prominent people in the organization who worked hard to define leadership in these new conditions. They did not simply drop in a theoretical model of leadership, but they worked hard to define new leadership paradigms for their unique circumstances. This process built support, acceptance and alignment through the organization
Throughout the Guided Practice/implementation of the best practices, each of these programs had explicit executive support. For example, even though everyone was skeptical that the 36 executives implementing the transformation of the company’s US operations would actually do weekly tasks, attend weekly “Action Group meeting” and record their progress, all 36 executives did all of these important tasks. It probably helped that the EVP of their US operations monitored the group’s Learning Journal weekly and was communicating with anyone who fell behind immediately. His own investment and commitment was clear and after a little testing by the executives, everyone did all of the work because they didn’t want to disappoint the EVP. In fact, one executive pushed the EVP pretty hard and the EVP publicly said, “You are either part of our future and will do these things or you should look for other opportunities.” That executive and everyone else got the message.
Similarly, in the program for working with providers, one of the senior contracting people, who had been working with a large hospital system, publicly declared that he was doing really well with his current approach and didn’t need to shift to the new model. He was declaring that he was deliberately not going to support the company’s strategic transformation. As one would expect, he was immediately put on a performance management program because he was no longer performing to the standards of the job. That sent a clear message of, “change with the organization or leave.”
The leadership team was “all in” for these changes and did not tolerate resistance to evolution and change. Legitimate issues where openly discussed, but continuing the old, obsolete attitudes and behaviors wasn’t tolerated
Again, this organization is doing well financially and they did NOT have to make these changes, but they did the hard transformational work to evolve their organization and now they are leading into a future that is full of great opportunities.
In follow-up blog posts, I will write about the actual work they did, the way the learning groups became action groups and the results of the efforts. For now, just know that, as one VP put it: “We would never have believed that we could change this much, this fast and with so little disruption to the organization.”
Is your organization defending its old ways of doing business or embracing the future?