Business Change: the Stormtrooper, the Ninja and the Superhero

Lionel Grealou Business Consulting Leadership 4 minutes

Image credit: my son’s Lego© toys

Effective business change relies on communication clarity, empathy and continuous strategic alignment; full stop. There are numerous ways to convey messages, including various communication types (verbal, written, visual, non-verbal), communication attributes and other soft skill characteristics: transparent, open, inter-personal, motivational, factual, positive, focusing on active listening, problem-solving, conflict resolution, negotiation, teamwork, leadership, strategic thinking, etc.

Business change ranges from continuous improvement to fundamental transformation, involving people, process and technology alignment to a given vision and implementation strategy. Organisations aim to change when they face a number of difficulties or when preparing for a new strategic positioning or offering.

Everything is changing all the time, and paradoxically, it is often perceived that nothing really changes when things do not improve as expected. To that effect, French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote in 1849: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose“—referring to the fact that change must be truly embraced to actually materialise; and also that change is about new experiences, not always better ones. Moreover, implementing change can be a lot more complex than defining the change strategy.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1849)

Considering different approaches to implement change is essential to adopt the most suitable execution strategy; the one that is going to drive the expected outcomes and business value. Implementation strategies are contextual and must be carefully planned and managed throughout—in addition to anticipating potential change of course during the implementation (change of strategy, change of scope, change of speed, change of process, change of people, change of technology, all of the above or perhaps stop everything).

Making change decisions is not easy; it required change leadership (not just change management) as difficult decisions are expected to be made along the way. Leadership styles can affect how these decisions are made and their implications. Change leadership styles can range from a Stormtrooper (a.k.a. a frontline soldier) leading the organization in embracing change bottom-up, to a Ninja influencing at all levels, both in the foreground and background, towards positive change outcomes, or a Superhero driving change top-down in a more transactional, sometimes controversial manner.

The Stormtrooper (a.k.a the frontline soldier)

Leading change bottom-up implies deep levels of engagement with users and business leaders, extending with the ability to be a role model / ambassador for other fellow SMEs to follow. It is about driving implementation and execution, rather than being evangelistic about a vision.

Pros: this approach does not imply that someone else is driving the vision definition; on the contrary, it means that the solution and the associated change are directly driven by the business owners and users who will ultimately benefit from it, rather than IT or some external third party. Internal frontline change agents act as “soldiers” as such—being at the forefront of the change, they are the change. The fact is that key-users know their operations, processes and technical deliverables more than any IT team or external consultancy.

Cons: this approach can be challenging as existing teams, users and business leads might not have the capacity and capability to implement the change, especially if it includes the need for specialist knowledge of new platforms and processes. They may obviously rely on specialised teams for the technical implementation part of the solution, however that might also imply outsourcing the strategy implementation, even possibly its definition.

The Ninja

When considering the Ninja management style, there is always a balance between the use of stealth and discipline, possibly stealth. This style should not be about looking impressive or covering up incompetence or mismanagement; it is instead about being effective at managing complexity and ambiguity for the rest of the organization to embark onto the change, while finding the “path of least resistance” to avoid conflict, which does not mean avoiding to solve problems.

Pros: this approach has the potential to maximise performance, design thinking and agile engagement, while reducing frustration of the business when facing difficult specialised jargon or complex implementation methodologies. The idea to have an experienced proxy to “shield” and manage / lead such burden with third parties and technical teams to avoid having to explain everything that might not be relevant to busy business leads. This approach is clearly based on trust, ethics and competency.

Cons: if not used with genuine honesty and willingness to do well for the greater good, this approach might be perceived as avoiding the real issues, deflecting or ignoring problems rather than facing the music. It is unlikely to work in organizational environments where “blame” culture prevails.

The Superhero

Leading change top-down is what the Superhero management style is about. Having the ability to do it all, or at least the relevant competencies to understand it all, Superheros aspire to shine, inspire others and solve problems. There are actually multiple Superhero styles: from pragmatic commanders to visionary leaders, debaters, strong and powerful solution advocates, altruist and intuitive leaders who master the art of change management, etc.

Pros: this approach is about getting things done and inspiring others in defining, understanding, implementing, driving and adopting the change. There might be multiple sub-level Superhero styles, personalities and skills, some of which might be better suited based on the organization context, culture and type of business change. When driving change with such approach, a critical element remain the ability to fit into the context and build the appropriate team to align to the management style.

Cons: Superheros might like a crisis, or could have a tendency to create crisis themselves to displace detractors and take control of the situation. They might also carry associated conflicting personalities with their specific knowledge and leadership styles, which might not be compatible with the organizational culture or the nature of the business change.

Combining multiple styles can be the answer to addressing each and every style limitations. It is essential to look at multiple styles across the implementation phases and also continuously adapt to what works well and what does not work so well.

  • Looking at the glass half-full, change contributes to create the opportunity to streamline operations and increase the bottom-line, develop more products, faster and to higher quality standards, deliver more products and services ‘right-first-time’, sustain or gain competitive advantage and displace the competition, innovate more, learn and outpace our current ability to change.
  • Looking at the glass half-empty, not embracing change can lead to further struggle to meet top and / or bottom line targets, facing the same challenges over again.

What are your thoughts?

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About the Author

Lionel Grealou


Lionel Grealou, a.k.a. Lio, helps original equipment manufacturers transform, develop, and implement their digital transformation strategies—driving organizational change, data continuity and process improvement, managing the lifecycle of things across enterprise platforms, from PDM to PLM, ERP, MES, PIM, CRM, or BIM. Beyond consulting roles, Lio held leadership positions across industries, with both established OEMs and start-ups, covering the extended innovation lifecycle scope, from research and development, to engineering, discrete and process manufacturing, procurement, finance, supply chain, operations, program management, quality, compliance, marketing, etc.

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