Take time to soak

How I remade GE and what I learned along the way by Jeffrey Immelt (HBR September to October 2017) is an engaging read. In this article Jeffrey Immelt concisely describes the complete business transformation of GE that he led and his candour and insights are fascinating. The Five Transformations – the areas addressed across the corporation – are interesting in their scale and scope.

However it is 7 lessons learned that shook my thinking. We are used to leaders sharing their do’s and don’ts about change leadership or transformation and to be frank they often sound as though they are divorced from the real action and lacking the insight of the coal-face. I did not find this to be true of Jeffrey Immelt’s list which felt both honest and surprising.

The lesson that really stood out for me was one entitled Soak. In his words:

Good leaders, good CEOs, are curious. They engage in what I call a “soak period” before they reach a conclusion about what the input means for their company and how to act on it. A leader needs a long soak period mainly because of the tremendous amount of personal fortitude required to drive lasting change in a big organisation. You must be profoundly convinced that the company must transform itself – that it’s a matter of life and death – because when you start the play, you will immediately get pushback.

Many of the war-stories of modern leadership and management praise the strong instincts and fast decision-making of great leaders. This is certainly invaluable in the leadership of the day-to-day operations of a large organisation.

When it comes to real business transformation and large change programmes however, how can we have strong instincts that remain unquestioned as this transformation has never been done before – the organisation, the people, the objectives, the scope?

Jeffrey Immelt describes taking time to listen to customers, the sales and field teams, talking to leaders in other sectors and organisations, reading books and journals and hiring experts to lead the development of specific areas. He provides an anecdote of a compelling action (a pivotal change in the programme) that arose from “soaking” with two GE leaders in the Africa team.

He concludes this point:

When you get to the point where you believe to your core that things have fundamentally changed – when you feel that if we don’t do it, it’s going to get done to us – it’s time to act and engage the organisation.

Transformation requires strong commitment which in turn requires deep understanding and conviction. Jeffrey Immelt’s advice is slow down and soak.

Andrew Kearns
Hartswood Management Ltd
Delivering real transformation

For advice on structuring your transformation or change programme please email andrewkearns@hartswoodmanagement.co.uk

For further insights please visit – www.hartswoodmanagement.co.uk/insights

Suggestions for further action:

  1. Block out time to listen and then reflect.
  2. Create a list of people to listen to including customers.
  3. Subscribe to Harvard Business Review or follow HBR and TED on Twitter.
  4. Read some management books. My aim is to read at least 6 management books per year. My list of books from the last few years – https://www.pinterest.co.uk/andrewwkearns/business-books-worth-reading/

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