Interesting article from this week’s StanfordKnowledgeBase email on a key element in driving organizational change.

“Getting all the senior leaders on board in advance is the most effective way to be successful in introducing change to an organization," according to research co-authored by Charles O’Reilly of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Creating change in the workplace

How Leadership Matters: The effects of leaders' alignment on strategy implementation is written by three organizational behavior professors including O’Reilly; Jennifer Chatman, Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley; and David Caldwell, Santa Clara University.

The research found that "when leaders across levels of an organization consistently support a particular change, the organization is likely to realize the performance benefits of the change more quickly and more completely than if less consistency exists.”

A real-life example

We’re just back from working with a client who gets this -– and we think it’s why they’ll be successful at creating a company-wide change in writing quality.

Gordon’s not the first CEO we’ve worked with who desired higher writing quality throughout the ranks of his company. But he’s the first who’s been willing to work closely with us to actually define the traits associated with that quality. And he involved top management in the process, too.

We wrote up the qualities, built examples of them from company documents, and then taught strategies for creating documents to that standard. These top managers went through a day-long training to learn the strategies and techniques for getting their own and each other’s writing closer to the gold standards they’d defined.

They test-drove the learning for about month among themselves, then asked us back to train up the entire team.

We spent two days reviewing the company’s writing standards with the rank and file, walked through some examples and exercises, and then turned them loose in small groups to revise and edit their work and each other’s. This last part helped us discover special skills among the team, so we could match up folks who needed help with certain things – say word choice – with someone who was very thoughtful about choosing words. It also gave us a multiple chances to go through the process from pre-writing through final edits.

Investing in the soft skill of writing

At the end of the final day, the c-level folks asked for our help in refining the writing process and assigning roles. Watching an executive team walk through various scenarios related to create a document was extraordinary only because so few are willing to invest this kind of time in a “soft skill” like writing. But here, they know two important things:

  1. Writing is how their company (like most) does the lion’s share of its communicating with stakeholders and that makes it a critical skill up and down the organization.
  2. Change doesn’t stick if it’s not embraced and employed by every one at every level.

What are you doing in your firm to ensure that the changes you want to see have the best opportunity of succeeding? How engaged are you – or your c-level officers – in modeling the changes you’d like to see? And how can The Word Factory team help?