by Bas de Baat

Collaborative willpower drives organizational change

Aug 18, 2015
IT Leadership

Technology-driven change projects succeed when senior leaders demonstrate collaborative willpower. Many organizations lack this group dynamic and, as a consequence, deliver sub-optimized results.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” –Henry Ford

Technology-driven change projects succeed when senior leaders demonstrate collaborative willpower. Many organizations lack this group dynamic and as a consequence deliver sub-optimized results. 

What does willpower mean? Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, and author of the book “The Willpower Instinct,” describes it as the ability to do what matters most, even when it’s difficult or when some part of you doesn’t want to. Self-awareness, control and discipline are fundamental behavioral traits that come with willpower. 

While I listened to McGonigal’s audio book on my way to work, I wondered how collaborative willpower could work in projects. Here are 5 thoughts that came to my mind.

  1. Craft a shared vision, set compelling goals and stick to it. Although it’s obvious that one of the first steps is to set the project direction, it is oftentimes a stride to get and keep all the key stakeholders on the same page, aligned and committed. Continuity of vision throughout the project lifecycle is imperative. What I mean with that is that on one side the interest and buy in of the stakeholders into the vision is continuously managed, and on the other side the vision is further dissected into bite size, meaningful deliverables that add business value and manifest change. The willpower is reflected by strong bonding among the senior leaders, coalition strength and a unanimous voice to the organization about where the journey is going
  1. Manage expectations at all levels. Large scale, enterprise-wide transformation initiatives have an impact on everybody to some degree. The impact is different in ‘substance’ and also in ‘order-of-magnitude’. Communications and management of expectations need to be tailored to specific stakeholder groups and individuals. Senior leaders play a key role in explaining what tomorrow’s world looks like and what that means to the people they are leading. They have a mixed bag of generic messages that apply to everybody and specific messages for individuals. For both, it is important to find the common ground between the interest of the organization and the interest of the group or individual. Once people understand ‘what’s in it for me’ and concur, the senior leader has made a huge step forward
  1. Execute a realistic plan. True collaborative willpower results in a plan that is supported and actioned by the senior leaders without doubt, argue or resistance. They embrace it and deliver. They sync up with each other and adjust.  And they rally their teams to make things happen and celebrate. A realistic plan means that milestones, deliverables and key tasks are clearly articulated and achievable without ‘over stretching’ the team. Senior leaders are aware of what is important and what tasks take precedence over others. They are able to deal with competing priorities by thinking and acting ahead of time, especially when there is a concurrent performance peak on the project and business side that impact the same group of people. Senior leaders with willpower take ownership. They focus themselves and their team on the important tasks and persevere
  1. Establish cross-functional integration. Many organizations still have functional structures and cultivate vertical, silo-ed behavior. They struggle with transformation and can at best deliver sub-optimized results, because their interest to ‘reinvent the legacy’ prevails over making a real shift. In today’s global economy, the trend is to transition to organizational models that are nimble, process oriented and cross-functionally integrated. Senior leaders with collaborative willpower perceive a transition from vertical to horizontal as a trend reversal. They realize that they have the opportunity to undertake a make over, and can make a ‘once in a lifetime’ change.
  1. Manage organizational change. The project team is designing business processes, building and testing the new and soon to be deployed technology, and preparing the organization for go live by conducting end-user training.  At certain points in time the project conducts change impact assessments and drafts change plans to be implemented. All of these activities are a ‘must have’ to set the project and organization up for success. But truth to the matter is that the ‘driving engine’ of organizational change is the collaborative willpower of the senior leaders. That has to be fully recognized and adopted right from the start. Regardless of what the project delivers, senior leaders can make or break the outcome, determine adoption, and realize business benefits. Through tight collaboration, senior leaders stay the course, synchronize intentions and orchestrate their teams to manifest change

Winning organizations have senior leaders with collaborative willpower. They work towards the same set of goals in a transparent manner. They unlock and extend potential, motivate their project and functional teams and operate different than their peers in the marketplace. They thrive on a shared set of values and beliefs, and are wary of single minded actions and outcomes that do not benefit the overall performance of the organization.