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I've been hiring change professionals for a long time, from interim program directors to permanent leaders of large change teams. Here are the top 5 things I look for when selecting people to lead a change initiative.

  1. Are they focussed on outcomes? I often meet very experienced change leaders who are excellent organisers and very disciplined in their application of method and process. But sometimes this comes with a tendency towards a 'heads down' approach, which means they are so focussed on delivering tasks and managing risks that they forget about the overall vision, goals and outcomes. I think it is vital that a change leader constantly focuses on the benefits and the business outcomes. This results in more effective decision making during scope change, solution design and the constant trade off of the program delivery variables.
  2. How do they describe their stakeholders? One of the key measures of success of a change program is the post implementation reaction of the investors in the change. Similarly, one of the key measures of success for a change leader is the relationship they have with those stakeholders. A change leader should be able to describe a sponsor or stakeholder with a degree of intimacy - their hot buttons, preferences, foibles, upward and downward relationships, and most importantly what outcomes they want from the program from both a personal and business perspective.
  3. Can they wear several heads? A change leader needs to be a chameleon, adapting to many different environments. Even in the most culturally aligned organisation you would expect to see different personalities, behaviours and critical success factors (e.g. between a finance director and a sale director). The change leader needs to be able to understand all the various roles and relate to their profiles and, to an extent, mirror their behaviours.
  4. Are they multi-lingual? A change leader will need to work at many levels and with many disciplines, each area speaking their own language. The change leader needs to be able to communicate to many audiences, each with their own preference for receiving information. They will often need to be able to manage issues at the highest conceptual level right down to the technical detail.
  5. Are they honest? This may seem like an unnecessary attribute to assess, but I have come across many change leaders who are afraid to give bad news. They may bet on problems being fixed and so decide to 'not bother' their stakeholders. They may exaggerate their own capability, skills and experience to gain credibility. In order to save face, they may guess the answers to questions out of their knowledge span. In the end, it is likely that this behaviour comes back to bite you and reputations are easily gained but hard to change. Alerting risks and issues often earns credibility providing that they are accompanied by action.