How Leaders Transform Backward Facing Companies into Forward-Thinking Organizations

Leadership drives adaptability towards change management.

Leadership drives adaptability towards change management.

Alex Sal, Journalist, and Writer for Executive Content
Guest Writer for Bob the BA - The Uncommon League

As we age as human beings, we often grapple with many inconvenient truths, none more apparent than the reality that states: those who resist change seldom succeed. This idea is for people as well as businesses, considering that a business is an institution that consists of people.

Businesses that resist change also resist growth because they avoid the changes that precede innovation. Breaking barriers, testing the status quo, questioning traditional practices - these are some of the many components that inevitably lead to innovation.

Inherently, we must destroy our old ways to develop our new ways, like a phoenix rising from its ashes. Sometimes a business needs to be restructured for it to possess structure.

If a business resists change then it will fundamentally create a culture of maintaining the status quo - it produces an environment where mediocrity is accepted and brash, creative thinking is looked down upon and shunned.

The next question is, is this cycle breakable? If so, how does one break it? Arguably, only a confident and forward-thinking leader can break the cycle. But how?

Painting a clear and comprehensive vision focused on results

People like practical leaders with pragmatic ideas. They feel comfortable in the idea that the person who is leading them is data-driven and makes decisions using his or her instincts.

That’s why leaders who transform backward facing companies focus on tangible results and not just optics. It’s just like political campaigning - you try to knock out the incumbent by conveying to the voters that their lives haven’t changed that drastically under the incumbent’s rule.

That’s what leaders in these situations do: they paint a clear vision and explain that the status quo is insufficient and unacceptable. They will not accept the status quo and “neither should you.” They win over hearts and minds, and they do so in a compassionate way that shows a better future is possible.

Persistently reaffirming the vision, so everyone knows you won’t give up until you see your vision through

It comes down to persistence. Once leaders have planted the seed that an alternative future is possible, they spend the rest of their time reaffirming that notion. They understand that they have momentum on their side and they keep pushing to take advantage of that momentum. They capitalize on opportunities. They’re on point, on time, prepared, and they always make sure to maintain professionalism in the workplace.

Moreover, they don’t stop, because they need to have enough endurance to win over employees and outwork upper management. Sometimes that even means bringing a staffing agency in to help assist with any key bottlenecks.  

Allying with a champion who’s been in the company a long time and always knew it needed to change but didn’t have the stomach for it or the time

Leaders don’t transform companies on their own; they have support from champions who have influence in their organization and help them actualize their agenda. That’s what also makes a leader great: he or she knows how to delegate appropriately.

The critical point is that leaders know how to delegate tasks to the right people, particularly a “champion” who has the ear of stakeholders who have been around for a while. This person is trusted and is invited to be a part of many important meetings, a luxury the leader may not have due to stakeholders seeing this person as a possible threat.

The champion will be the one to say, “Hey, we need this person; he or she is a leader, and we should give what they’re saying a try. Things haven’t worked historically. We need to change. Change is good.” Leaders cultivate multiple champions, ideally more than one.

Spread your vision to new hires who are more susceptible to adopting your vision than current employees

Once the leader has made an impact and has won over a champion, the leader will then begin to spread his or her vision with a strategic purpose in a calculated manner. The leader will train and mentor younger champions with less influence at the top of a company but more influence at the bottom of the company.

Think of it as a two-tier approach. The first tier is the champion and top stakeholders. The second tier is the young employees and the new hires. Over time, leaders will paint their vision to these two groups and push ideas company-wide, top to bottom. Simultaneously they’ll find top candidates and prepare them for leadership to expand their influence in an even more extensive capacity.

Implement your vision in small doses, show their results, and then spread your vision

Lastly, it’s all about implementation. Nothing changes if things don’t get done. The important part to consider is that leaders will remain persistent and resilient to get through this stage entirely - it’s the toughest part because everything is on the line.

Throughout this timeframe, the leader will measure results and present those results to a broad audience. The trick is, the leader will move slowly at first. Remember: they’re calculated.

They build out strategy bit by bit, project by project. By focusing on the vision, building collaboration and support, convincing stakeholders, and then backing up their vision with substantial data ensure success. This is to get things accomplished but not to raise any red flags too suddenly.

That’s what will allow a leader to overcome challenges in transforming a backward facing company into a forward-thinking organization that operates like a machine. Take the reigns of change and lead the change. Alternatively, the change will most certainly lead you.

About Alex Sal

Alex Sal is a startup founder, entrepreneur, and business journalist. He particularly enjoys writing articles about leadership and organizational transformation.