Change Is Good: I Is for Integrity

Slalom Consulting Roger Kastner

A Consultant Manager with Slalom Consulting, Roger works with clients and other consultants in the delivery of Organizational Effectiveness and Project Leadership services and helps practitioners achieve greater success than previously possible.

Several years ago I worked for a large, matrixed company that was going through some restructuring, which included the centralization of a couple program management offices (meaning that my boss had a new boss). The new boss’s boss came out to our campus to hold her first all-hands where she was attempting to build enthusiasm for her new organization.

In her presentation, she used a drawing of an iceberg to illustrate that she was aware that 3/4s of what a project manager does is not visible to all stakeholders, thus potentially creating a lack of appreciation for the work we do. But she was different—she appreciated the full course of work we did and it was her number-one priority to help the larger organization have a better appreciation for project management.

Unfortunately, her message was lost at sea. You see, behind the iceberg, there was a ship labeled with the company’s name. While she was attempting to articulate an appreciation for her new team, the message received was that project management was going to do to the company what an iceberg did to the Titanic.

Whoops. While unintentional, her delivery was not integral to her intended message, and instead of reducing resistance to the new organizational structure, she increased it.

According to Prosci’s research, resistance—the venom to acceptance of change—comes in its strongest form when individuals are not aware of the change and when their interests are not aligned with the change. Trust underlies awareness of the reason for change and leader alignment, and if trust is in question, the lack of trust will spill into questioning the true reason for change and the intent of leaders.

To proactively combat these questions, the change sponsor and leaders, who will lead the change, should develop an explicit plan to act with integrity throughout the change effort in order to cultivate and reinforce followership.

It’s just that simple.

Key Ingredient for Trust: Integrity
Change leadership requires more than telling a good story and charting a direction; it requires being trustworthy and demonstrating integrity.

Successful change is hard because it requires:
• Trust that the sponsor is setting the right direction
• Trust that the organizational leaders are capable of leading the change effort
• Trust that the sponsor and leaders are acting in the organization’s best interests
• Trust in the sponsor and leaders’ conviction to stick with the change and deliver the promised results and benefits

Stephen M. R. Covey, son of the “7 Habits” Stephen Covey, does an amazing job in his book Speed of Trust identifying the core mechanics of trust, in addition to identifying the key behaviors for building trust. Those core elements of trust are:
• Integrity—do you do what you say?
• Intent—why do you do what you do?
• Capabilities—do you possess the skills to do what you say you will?
• Results—do you deliver the goods as promised?

Covey identifies the first two are elements of character and proposes that the fastest way to lose trust is to commit a violation of integrity or intent. Since intent is not observable, a violation of integrity is the quickest way to erode trustworthiness and followership. The author goes on to say that the last two elements, capabilities and results, are elements of competence, and that the fastest way to build trust is to demonstrate competence.

In order to reduce resistance to change, a focus on integrity is critical in building trust and followership amongst other leaders and the target audience.

Trust: Table Stakes for Change
Integrity is observable. Leaders and team members, especially the late adopters and resisters, will vigilantly watch and listen to the change sponsor specifically for instances where he or she is consistent, or not. When a sponsor behaves in a way that is not consistent with their words, or their words are not consistent from moment to moment, trust in the sponsor suffers.

Conversely, if the sponsor and leaders demonstrate integrity in their messages and behaviors, the impact on increasing trust will have a positive impact on the acceptance of change.

To compound the issue, if leaders in the organization do trust the sponsor, it will be demonstrated in their behaviors and in their communications. When team members witness the consistency between the messages from the sponsor and the leaders, it will have a positive impact on their willingness to accept the change.

So trust in the sponsor and leaders is the table stakes for followership, and any violation of integrity is the fastest way a change sponsor and/or organizational leaders can erode followership and create the impetus behind much of their team’s resistance.

Create a Culture of Integrity
Advising a sponsor to act with integrity is like telling someone to use “expert judgment.” If they have it, the advice is lame, and if they don’t, well, they won’t. And since integrity and trust needs to be demonstrated with consistency between the sponsor and leaders, cultivating integrity needs to be an explicit part of the change sponsorship plan.

Here are the steps I advise sponsors to follow in order to create a culture of integrity:

1) Identify the principles
Create a vision for leadership principles specific to the change. This involves the sponsor articulating the principles they agree to lead the change with.

2) Engage leadership and obtain commitment to the principles
Engage organizational leaders about the change of principles, adjust as necessary, and ask for leaders to hold themselves and the sponsor accountable to them—meaning committing to calling it out when the sponsor or other leaders do not act in accordance to outlined principles.

3) Operationalize the principles
Make the principles visible to the entire team and ask team members to call out when they see any violation, real or perceived, to the sponsor or their leaders. Use the principles in planning and decision-making. Create messages and activities that demonstrate principles and allow leaders and team members to witness the sponsor acting in accordance with principles.

4) Call out violations
This is the sharp end of the stick for creating a culture of integrity and is the most crucial component to cementing the foundation of a culture of integrity. How the sponsor reacts to violations of integrity being called out can accelerate or deteriorate trust, thus having a huge impact on the acceptance of the change and the acceptance of the sponsor’s leadership in general.

If leaders are able to hold each other accountable to the agreed upon principles, the foundation will be strong and will pay off benefits beyond the realization of the specific change. If leaders are not willing or able to do this, there will be no trust due to the observable lack of integrity, and resistance to the change will be palpable.

Wrap It Up
It’s a simple equation: integrity builds trust, trust creates followership, followership facilitates acceptance.

After articulating a clear case for change, building a strong coalition to lead the change along with a good delivery plan—and then identifying and addressing areas of resistance to the change—is the number-one priority for any change initiative. One of the areas of resistance that is often overlooked and potentially the easiest to solve (though it can also be the most destructive), is the sponsor’s ability to act with integrity.

The fastest way to build trust is to demonstrate competence; the quickest way to erode trust is to violate one’s character; and since integrity is the most observable form of character, the sponsor should embrace integrity as if their job depends on it. Because, in fact, it does.

It’s just that simple.

About Roger Kastner
As a member of the Organizational Effectiveness practice at Slalom Consulting, I'm excited to share my perspectives and experiences with Change and Project Management to help clients and practitioners achieve their goals and objectives.

One Response to Change Is Good: I Is for Integrity

  1. Roger Kastner says:

    Integrity is transparent, here’s a good example of a “bad example”: http://www.dilbert.com/2012-12-20/

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