For every Batman, there’s a Robin. For every Bert, there’s an Ernie. And for every CEO, there’s a “translator.” The strategic placement of an HR leader in the role of translator, the right-hand person to the CEO, creates opportunities for that HR team member to translate the company’s vision, strategies and values into the day-to-day activities of every employee. This mobilization of an organization’s people potential is what strategic human resource management is all about.
The true catalyst for successful strategy execution is the leaders’ ability to constantly and effectively mobilize people to enact change. As translator, the HR leader assists the CEO with the translation of his or her vision and strategies into the hearts, heads and hands of their employees. In turn, the HR leader translates employee concerns, hopes and fears regarding the proposed strategy, back to the CEO. This two-way translation oils the machine of strategy execution.
HR leaders can become effective translators and mobilize their organizations by applying a simple, pragmatic framework built upon four core elements: Engage, Align, Enable and Sustain.
Engage: The Heart of the Matter
Create a belief in the vision and direction of the organization that inspires extra effort, enthusiasm and commitment.
The CEO must become the change he or she wants to create in the organization. Too often, leaders adopt a “good for the troops” approach to change, as in, “They need to change.” Throughout the engagement process, the leader’s actions will speak louder about his or her commitment to the initiative than any written or spoken communication on the subject.
The translator plays a critical role in helping the CEO and the leadership team define the necessary leadership behaviors, and provides honest feedback on how their actions are being perceived by employees.
When driving change, the key is to attain a “critical mass” — the triggering of an unstoppable chain reaction. In organizational change, when CEOs have a critical mass of powerful influencers who openly support and execute the change they want to implement, the momentum becomes unstoppable. Resisters either get on board or leave.
This key stakeholder engagement and confrontation of change resistance are critical processes that the translator must effectively lead.
Align: All Heads in the Game
Help employees understand business priorities and how they can contribute, both personally and collectively.
George Bernard Shaw once noted, “The strangest thing about common sense is that it is not so common after all!” As leaders, then, assume nothing. It is better to ask seemingly obvious questions than to discover later on in the execution plan that there were numerous interpretations of the expected outcomes. This attitude often leads to misdirected, albeit well intended, effort.
The identification of — and commitment to — value-adding activities that contribute directly or indirectly to business strategies is the core of true mobilization. The translation of these activities to all roles in the organization unlocks the company’s full people potential. It is impossible to over communicate top priorities. Business leaders need to repeat their messages about what to focus on from every possible angle and viewpoint.
If well executed, alignment unleashes the power, focused energies and talents of the team. Alignment filters and demystifies the few critical priorities that offer the highest value to a change initiative, aligning both personal and collective effort — which can only be realized when employees know exactly what these priorities are and how they can contribute to their execution.
Enable: All Hands on Deck
Efficiently and effectively equip employees at all levels with the specific knowledge, skills and processes necessary to deliver against business priorities.
Whenever business leaders implement change, through an acquisition, merger, reorganization or the introduction of a new business process, they need to identify and build the capabilities necessary for success. Demands for new skill-sets and ways of working will emerge as ripple effects of change, and leaders must be diligent about providing learning opportunities. The HR translator must find the most efficient and effective ways of embedding the needed skills and knowledge.
As Dr Pepper Snapple CEO Larry Young says, “If we don’t train them, we can’t blame them.”
Effective translation of change calls for the proactive identification of current business practices and processes that will hinder the implementation of the new strategies the leader wishes to execute. To determine how best to streamline these processes, smart business leaders tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience available in their valuable frontline operators.
Many of these employees have a deep understanding of the business processes and, if asked, will offer pragmatic ideas for improvement. The problem is that leaders seldom ask them.
There is a plethora of evidence to show that companies that engage, align and enable the efforts of all employees, regardless of their positions in the hierarchy, leverage the full power of their human capital.
Dr Pepper Snapple, for example, met with success by providing one- to two-hour workshops called, “Call to ACTION Huddle Sessions” that generated forum discussions among their frontline employees on points of interest such as how to enhance processes, drive out waste and increase quality.
Sustain: Pass the Baton
Ensure the continuity of change beyond the oversight of the leader, transferring leadership and ownership of change to the team.
It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure the change agenda is kept fresh and relevant and the culture of continuous improvement is passed on, continuing to grow from one generation of leaders to the next. The HR translator must champion the creation of this culture and build the bench strength that will sustain this injection of capable leaders.
Sustainability, then, is the ability to achieve resonance and ensure continued relevance of the change agenda. The systematic layering of new concepts, processes, skills and behaviors embeds continuous improvement into the fiber of an organization. It becomes “the way we do things around here.”
The skills, processes and behaviors that are embodied in the leadership development programs will ultimately shape and define the behaviors, norms and culture of the organization. By building continuous improvement skills and disciplines into strong leadership development, CEOs send the clear message to everyone in the organization that the future growth of the company will depend on the team’s ability to recognize and utilize these tools and capabilities.
The Engagement Cycle: An 8-Step Process for Effective Engagement
Building these future leaders of change has little to do with classroom training and a great deal to do with learning by doing.
As resonance begins to build, individuals within the team will surface as true champions of change and continuous improvement. Seize the opportunity to recognize them, and allow them to lead various improvement opportunities. Give them the necessary change management tools and decision authority to drive cross-functional initiatives, and provide them with the necessary coaching and support. Start now on building a pipeline of next-generation change leaders.
This mobilization framework can be successfully applied across diverse cultures and sizes of businesses, from multi-billion dollar organizations to small companies. Regardless of the size of the business, CEOs can use this framework to tap into the potential of all employees to create a sustainable competitive advantage through their people.