the ceo magazine, change management,
Phil Geldart, Founder & CEO, Eagle’s Flight

When we think about what's necessary to align an organization during a time of change, we often underestimate the importance of the executive team members throughout that journey.

There is no question that they play a vital role at the outset, because they are typically the ones who initiated the changes that led to a need for alignment in the first place. Also, the executive team provides the rationale for the change, often the resources required, and the link to the strategic plan.

However, the team’s role is far from finished. The organization will not simply align around the change on its own without significant additional involvement from the C-suite, who may instead be tempted to move on to the next major challenge.

In fact, the C-suite's role becomes absolutely crucial if true alignment, and its desired benefits, will accrue from the change. There are three things the C-suite must do to ensure alignment during transitional times:

1. Model

As the body follows the head, so an organization follows its leaders. Think of it this way: If a swimmer drops their head, the body follows and the swimmer angles downward—and similarly to get back to the top! In an organization, people are observing the most senior leadership and how they are responding in times of change, and then act in the same manner.

As a result, it’s essential that every executive behave the way they want everyone else to behave. If the change is an acquisition, welcoming the new organization and its employees without criticism will cascade down. If it’s launching a new customer service initiative, executives celebrating the importance of customers will be mimicked throughout the company.

The most effective way to drive specific new behaviors is for a leader to publicly demonstrate those behaviors on a consistent basis. Because executives are the ultimate leaders, what they do and say becomes a model for the rest of the company and is the first step toward alignment.

For example, an organization committed to developing a safety culture must have its executives visit the factories, don safety gear upon entry, ask to see the safety stats, and meet with the safety committee before leaving. This modeling of a commitment to safety is vital to successfully aligning everyone to a safety goal.

2. Coach

“OK, I see you doing it, but I’m not sure how to do it myself.”  This is a common response from people within an organization to behaviors they are seeing modeled by the C-suite.

As a result, those same executives must be willing, and able, to coach their direct reports on the “how.” They must be intentional in this coaching and do it so it can then be replicated.

One of the great truths about alignment that begins with example is that it harnesses the power of “cascading.” I see my boss do it, so I do it. When I ask my boss how, I’m shown how through coaching, and I am then able to coach my own direct reports, who are in turn learning from my own modeling.

For example, in the world of sales, executives who simply demonstrate excellence with a new sales strategy or product on a national account call but don’t coach their direct reports how to do the same only get frustrated. Those who show how, in addition to modeling, are building a pathway, and an expectation, that direct reports can follow. Ultimately, the sales organization will align to that new way of approaching all customers.

3. Require

“If it’s not required, it’s not required.” The C-suite must first require the new behavior in their direct reports, and then require that it be cascaded throughout the organization.  Alignment is not optional, and people cannot select whether or not to adopt new behaviors during times of change: They must change.

Typically, those who are at the C-suite level but only require find little success. Simply telling people they must align is of minimal value. Coaching is better, but coaching only, without personal example, is still not that effective.

However, when I know changing and aligning is non-negotiable (it’s “required”), and that my leader is there to help me (with “coaching”), and I see that leaders are demonstrating what I’m being asked and expected to do (“modelling”), then I can and will change. Little in the way of “require” is necessary when “model” and “coach” are truly and effectively present.

When C-suite members are behaving in this way, their expectation must be that the next level down (their own direct reports) are emotionally and viscerally demonstrating personal support in the same way – as models, as coaches, and requiring. It’s not an option for executives to only give “lip service” to the change and accompanying alignment “because they say we have to do it.” They themselves must be equally committed to leading the alignment and demonstrating their commitment. They must then also have this same expectation of their own direct reports, and so on down the line.

With this level of consistent focus by all leaders on personal modeling, coaching, and requiring, the C-suite will ensure organizational alignment during times of change.

About the Author

Phil Geldart, founder and Chief Executive Officer at Eagle’s Flight, is a recognized authority in the areas of transforming organizational culture and leadership development. He pioneered experiential learning in the training and development industry and has created numerous experiential learning programs which are now used around the world and translated into over two dozen languages. Phil is a powerful speaker, author of seven books in areas crucial to performance improvement, such as leadership, teamwork, experiential learning and culture transformation and he is a recognized thought leader in the area of releasing human potential.


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