October 20, 2017 Managing Change Blog
A senior executive recently described how he felt about his company’s partially completed transformation: It is like halftime, and our team has just run back into the locker room. We gave 110% in the first half, leaving it all out on the field. Teammates are puking their guts out right and left. Then, after a few moments of catching our breath, we have a growing feeling of panic—we are only halfway through the game. How can we possibly sustain this level of effort for the second half?
Transformations are tough work and take their toll on leadership teams. A “bet the company” change is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time, and the reality is that leadership teams do have to work harder from kickoff to the final countdown. The job each person had yesterday now also includes extra tasks such as spending time with initiative teams to design needed changes, evangelizing the change throughout the organization, and ensuring that high-potential employees are committed and can help lead the change.
Every leadership team has its own dynamic, just as every CEO leads in his or her own way. What is universally true is that during times of change, leadership teams must rely on each other in new and different ways.
Sometime between the 12th and 24th month of a transformation, it is important for a leadership team to come together in a halftime huddle to make adjustments to its game plan. It’s inevitable that any transformation effort will hit this wall, and leaders are smart to expect it and prepare for it. A good halftime discussion can reenergize an emotionally spent team, and should include asking and answering the following six questions.
• What have we achieved? Bring the energy up by celebrating success. Describe what you appreciate about each member of the team, and acknowledge as a group where you wish you had made more progress. Most leadership teams do the latter, but taking group time for individual appreciation can make a big difference in creating and sustaining energy.
• Why did we start all this? Remember why you began this journey in the first place. Make sure each team member has a chance to weigh in and reconnect with the reason this change mattered to him or her.
• What have we learned? Understand and agree on what is not working well and what is working well. Be unvarnished about where things are not working, but also surface strengths to build on those things that are going well. This includes what leaders have learned personally. The trust built among team members can have a significant impact on management style and empowerment.
• What has changed? Define what is different from what you expected and how that might affect the next part of the plan. The world has not stood still during the past year or two. For example, one retailer endured the entrance of a new competitor into the marketplace, and a technology company’s core product was commoditizing more rapidly than anticipated. Both had to ask themselves: How do we need to adapt our transformation plan to this new environment?
• What remains ahead of us? Articulate a clear plan for the second half. Define the plays to run and the role of each team member. For one industrial company, a review pointed to an intensified need to reduce costs in order to achieve competitive pricing. To take the difficult next step of comprehensively reducing costs, the leadership team needed to hold hands and agree to strive together with each leader doing his or her part.
• Are we committed? Recommit to the team. State what you will be responsible for and what you need from each member of the team. One leadership team found that when they paused to do this kind of review, they had two very different types of needs: First was what they needed from each other for the business (for example, a COO needing an accelerated technology deployment from the CIO); second was what they needed from each other as members of the team (for example, a team member playing the role of devil’s advocate to challenge new ideas).
The answers to these questions will be complex. Reenergizing for the second half is tough, but the right leadership team conversation can be a game changer.
Sarah Elk is a partner with Bain & Company in the Chicago office, and she is a leader of the firm’s Results Delivery® practice.