Today in “Leadership in a Global Context” we completed the “Change Management Simulation: Power and Influence” Harvard leadership simulation, which focused on highlighting the challenges of leading through change. You played either the CEO or the Director of Product Innovations at Spectrum Sunglass Company, tasked with motivating other members of upper company leadership to adopt your plan to shift to a more sustainable production process. I really loved this simulation, and especially took away the value and importance of growing and maintaining credibility as a leader, especially through change. In the scenario, to affect any real innovation you first needed to be seen as credible by your own team. It didn’t just tell you this, however, rather letting you fail until you realized how important it was to dedicate effort into building and sustaining credibility. This is likely the biggest thing I will focus on next time I am in a position where I am leading through change; it’s really easy to destroy it by a single misstep taken to be ill conceived or an overreach, and growing it back must be done deliberately.
With regards to the simulation’s lessons on change management, the biggest takeaway I had was about the importance of appropriately timing your action to first build momentum and then to sustain it through lasting change. The scenario clearly demonstrated how easy it is to “jump the shark” on these choices—I made quite a few missteps myself—and making these mistakes do not just leave you as an ineffective leader, but as one who lacks the ever important credibility already discussed. The exact timeline will differ dramatically between groups and those groups’ targeted changes, but making sure you are keeping a steady pace that first focuses on awareness and then slowly transitions people to adoption is essential. Through the simulation, my perceptions of power, influence and urgency also changed. First, it became obvious that power and influence are highly volatile in their own right, and are both metrics that must be actively engaged with and cultivated. Nobody has a static level of power and influence, they are ever changing and must be developed to be useful. The simulation also did a great job of demonstrating how urgency can affect adoption. In the first version we completed, there was outside pressure on the company to make the transition, and I was able to convert people to adoption much quicker. However, the second version did not offer this driving force, and people were much less likely to see why change was so important when the status quo was working fine.
This simulation complemented nicely the other simulations we already completed early in the week, especially “Patient Zero”. In “Patient Zero”, we had to balance the health and safety of our nation with other factors like morale, somewhat analogous to the balance between how aggressively you pushed for corporate change balanced against your credibility. Either way, if the people you were leading saw your action as overreaching they were much less likely to have faith and support your effort. These simulations diverged pretty dramatically in the novelty of their problems, however. No nation has faced anything close to a zombie apocalypse, but corporate restructuring and sustainable goals are becoming increasingly common. Adaptive leadership was much more valuable in “Patient Zero” for this reason. They also differed dramatically in urgency. In the second version of the simulation we completed today, there was no external pressure to convert the company to sustainable practices and energy had to be generated internally. However, in the zombie scenario, there was obviously an intense external pressure to act—people were much more likely to accept dramatic decisions and change because of this demand. Clearly, the urgency of change in crisis management correlates strongly with team willingness to accept this change. Overall, I enjoyed the simulation, and am excited to continue tomorrow with Everest!