I recently spoke at a major dental meeting. My topic was leadership and organizational transformation. The official meeting program categorized my presentation under the track heading of “Doctors and Staff.”
I wasn’t overly surprised by the disproportionate number of staff to doctors in attendance because I have spoken to similar groups before. The point is that I can’t help but wonder what is going through the doctor’s mind when they send their staff to a presentation like mine while they choose not to attend. They or their staff must have been interested in the possibility of transforming their practice, otherwise, they would not have attended. Yet, the doctor who chooses to send the staff alone must either assume that transforming a practice culture is the staff’s responsibility or it will happen spontaneously and without their involvement. Unfortunately, both assumptions are false.
Personal transformation of the leader must always precede transformation of the organization.
According to Bob Anderson, in his book Mastering Leadership, the process of cultural transformation initially begins through awareness of the leader, who then influences and changes the system. The new system exerts pressure on a critical mass of people to develop and adapt to the new order and, ultimately, a new and sustainable organizational order is established. This new order soon becomes the status quo and serves as the platform from which future higher level transformations are launched.
When we encounter resistance to organizational change, we must recognize it for what it is; the natural human struggle we encounter when asked to reestablish our identity. It is important to recognize that reality is never transformed, therefore, true and sustainable organizational transformation can only occur when we transform our identity with regard to the way we see and relate to reality. Leaders must paint a vivid picture of a new and better reality for the staff during this time of struggle. They must communicate this vision continually to ensure that the staff does not lose sight of the desired new reality. I suggest that doctors schedule more frequent staff meetings during these periods of transformation to address inevitable concerns and offer support to the staff.
Organizational transformation does not occur in a vacuum. Without the full engagement of leadership, change initiatives are doomed to fail. It is during transformative times that we are called upon to display our finest leadership skills. Sending our staff to learn about organizational transformation without our engagement is a waste of their time and, even worse, it tells them through our actions, that our words are meaningless, and we do not wish to participate in the process.
I would ask all of us to consider the devastating repercussions of asking our staff to transform our organization and then setting them up to fail.