McKinsey&Company

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Developing better change leaders

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McKinsey Quarterly

Aaron De Smet, Johanne Lavoie, Elizabeth Schwartz Hioe

Putting leadership development at the heart of a major operations-improvement effort paid big dividends for a global industrial company.

Few companies can avoid big, periodic changes in the guts of their business. Whatever the cause—market maturation, a tough macroeconomic environment, creeping costs, competitive struggles, or just a desire to improve—the potential responses are familiar: restructure supply chains; rethink relationships among sales, marketing, and other functions; boost the efficiency of manufacturing or service operations (or sometimes close them). Such changes start at the top and demand a relentless focus on nitty-gritty business details from leaders up and down the line.

Too often, however, senior executives overlook the “softer” skills their leaders will need to disseminate changes throughout the organization and make them stick. These skills include the ability to keep managers and workers inspired when they feel overwhelmed, to promote collaboration across organizational boundaries, or to help managers embrace change programs through dialogue, not dictation.