Taking the Drama Out of Change

Organizational Transformation

“CEOs identified their number one concern as the growing complexity of their environments, with the majority of those CEOs saying that their organizationsare not equipped to cope with this complexity.“                                                                               

                                                                                                               Center for Creative Leadership

Leaders often feel compelled to announce a reorganization or change initiative as a way to communicate that they have clarity of vision and direction in a complex and uncertain world. They want to ensure their stakeholders that they are not asleep at the wheel and that they are being proactive. Also, they believe a compelling change initiative can overcome organizational tendencies to continue down a comfortable path even when market conditions, human resources and technology developments are clearly going to change.  The periodic promotion of change becomes the preferred course correction mechanism.


Unfortunately, most change initiative fall far short of their intended outcomes because most of the energy goes into the drama created by shifts in focus and reporting relationships. The more effective way to change your organization is to create a leadership system and a leadership culture that promotes the long march of change rather than the sprint of change.  One of the most effective models for creating a growing organization in times of change is the SERVE leadership model. 

The SERVE model was pioneered in an organization that had reached a point where they recognized that their growth level was unsustainable in their current form. But rather than first change structure, products, and personnel they asked the question what kind of organization do we want to be and what kind of leadership is needed for that organization.  The resulting SERVE leadership model has been a key component in the organization becoming the most profitable business in the highly competitive quick service restaurant market. (growth rate, total revenue amount?)


The SERVE Model consists of five core leadership practices.

  • See and Shape the Future
  • Engage and Develop Others
  • Reinvent Continuously
  • Value Results and Relationships
  • Embody the Values


Each leadership practice reinforces the building of a leadership culture that enables everyone in the organization to have clarity on the collective and individual opportunity to succeed. That clarity is not diminished when change is needed but rather positions everyone to drive the desired change.  Perhaps most importantly, the SERVE leadership practices help leaders overcome the temptations to overmanage and underlead in times of change.


See and Shape the Future


Senior leaders need to make the right strategic decisions to guide their organizations forward, especially in ever increasing complex environments. Leaders also need to understand what decisions they should make and what decisions are best made at different levels in the organization.  At every level of the organization, employees need to experience change where they have some element of control and can receive feedback on their new behaviors. Effective change is more like learning to drive a car than being a passenger on a bus.  In the former, you are operating your small vehicle and learning to negotiate with other cars and traffic rules. In the latter you are traveling with others and in the same direction but see limited opportunities to contribute to the journey.  Leaders who see and shape the future makes change a continuous community learning process. The elements of strategic planning, decision-making, and communicating are embedded throughout the organization so learning is not confined to only senior leadership.


Engaging and Developing


By designing an intentional community learning process, leaders naturally are preparing everyone to excel not just in their current job but in their future jobs. While some contemporary leadership models encourage turnover as a way to bring in fresh talent to stimulate change, the SERVE model wants to provide every opportunity for existing employees to play a valuable role in the organization’s future. Through challenging assignments and empowerment, leaders enable their team members to see the significant role they are playing in shaping their future within the organization. Engaging and developing people requires identifying everyone’s talents and strengths and creating pathways to grow and contribute in those areas.  This starts with recruiting people with a growth mindset and investing heavily in their development. 



Reinvent Continuously


Reinvent continuously means everyone is in a learning mode knowing that there are better ways to do their current jobs.  This starts with a belief that performance improvement is always possible, but more importantly, recognizes that the operating environment will change sooner rather than later.  The near certainty of new technologies, changing customer preferences, new government regulations, and emerging market opportunities force everyone to adapt or be left behind.   So, leaders need to develop systems, structures and processes that allow information to flow throughout the organization, especially fromthe front lines.  And organizations need systems that encourage effective experimentation and allow the validation of assumptions.  Leaders lay the foundation for a system that rewards risk taking and innovation when they promote broad participation in planning and decision-making.


Value Results and Relationship


It is not uncommon for change initiatives to focus a lot more on results than relationships. In a desire to create the needed urgency for people to change, leaders often times communicate a message that the ship is sinking and they don’t have time to make sure everyone is feeling good.  The change initiatives that do work recognize that change takes time and people react to change differently.  Even in growth organizations that seek to avoid turbulent change initiatives, valuing results and relationships means moving people towards challenging goals at a sustainable pace.  This is true at the organizational, team, and individual level. The SERVE leadership model invests heavily in creating an organizational culture built on trust that doesn’t force leaders to choose between people and results.



Embody the Values


Leaders who use the SERVE model don’t have to look for the dramatic moments of a change initiative to integrate values with actions.  They recognize that everyday provides those opportunities.  At the heart of a growth organization is a leadership philosophy of service.  When leaders invest every day in meeting the needs of others, they create an organization that is best suited to meet change.  By focusing on the needs of customers and employees, they are much more likely to identify areas needing change long before a crisis emerges that requires a change initiative.   They are also much more likely to create a culture of leadership where everyone desires to learn, collaborate, and execute.   Change becomes not something employees are suddenly forced to do but rather how they do their work everyday.