Agents of Change

As business environment alters, a leader should revisit his way of operating his business to ensure a sustainable future, says Suresh Raina.

As business environment alters, a leader should revisit his way of operating his business to ensure a sustainable future, says Suresh Raina.

Like management and people, leadership and change too are synonymous. Large teams handling complex situations depend on managers to bring order and deliver profits. Today’s business environment too requires a leader to manage the change that is so critical to overcome competition and unpredictable and volatile nature of the business.

We are witness to changing technologies, increasing competition, trade agreements that deconstruct tariff barriers, deregulation, FDI, and changing demographics that make it impossible to maintain the growth rate without rethinking the strategy. It is even more pertinent to the Indian economy given our inflationary pressures and the desire to grow at double digits to maintain the real growth rate. Delivering a five per cent is no longer viable. In order to survive, major changes in everything from organisational structure to the business delivery model or even the product mix are needed. And more change always demands better leadership.

Change however, is always difficult. People inherently do the things the way they have always been done. Inertia is a big dampener. Emotions like fear, anger, pessimism, cynicism, denial, come to fore when change is demanded. Infosys calling back Narayan Murthy to help stem the downward slide is a classic change management exercise. Murthy has started with a vision process and now making it a reality through the change process. It is the job of the leader to provide the vision and the commitment. Without change being led from the top, it is difficult to drive the entire organisation.

Quick fixes may not always be able to get the job done. People also believe that too much change is not good to handle at one time. In such circumstances, a crisis helps to mobilise the team, introduces a sense of urgency and gets everyone on board. Sometimes you may need a burning platform to get everyone aligned. Sometimes fear may help to make employees less complacent.
Renowned Harvard professor and change expert John Kotter, formulated the following 8-step change process in his book, "Leading Change”.

  • Create Urgency
  • Form a Powerful Coalition
  • Communicate the Vision
  • Remove Obstacles
  • Create Short-Term Wins
  • Build on the Change
  • Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture

    The first reaction of the employee to the change process is - What is the need for change? How will it affect me? The first task of the leadership is to address these anxieties. Since is critical that the entire organisation needs to be aligned and involved, not just the top leadership, the moot question is how do you carry them along and help them have belief and faith in the leader’s vision.
    Speed is important, as you start the change process. You need to decide the time horizon that should be realistic. Working under pressure from either the stock market or the Board, the leadership has to move fast and deliver the results.

    Romesh Sobti, the well known banker, led the change management at IndusInd bank as he took over as the CEO in 2008 when the organisation was at its lowest ebb. Five years later not only has the bank turned around but done exceptionally well.

    Change cannot be the 50 PowerPoint slides presented in a town hall meeting. You need to form a team that can work closely with the leader to drive the change. In a change situation, people have a tendency to focus on the negative. So part of achieving change is aligning the team and motivating them to undertake the journey.

    In a change situation, one often encounters setbacks and confusion. As a leader, it is your job to explain that there will be difficulties, but they will not prevent ultimate success. It is the responsibility of the leader to smoothen the path.