Transformation Project: The Leadership Conversation You Need to Have
Organizational transformation expert Laurent Ledoux shares his insights about what needs to happen during that process.
Laurent Ledoux’s voice carries weight in the Collaborative Leadership movement, due to his impressive, decade-spanning career spent as the director of multiple, national and international organizations such as the “Belgian Ministry of Economic Affairs”, “Arthur D. Little” and more recently, head of the public banking department of “BNP Paribas Fortis”. This places him in an excellent position to share his insights, into and about the world of organizational transformation, while starting the conversation about what needs to happen during that process.
On November 3rd 2020, Laurent Ledoux participated in a Thrive-in Session organized by The NextGen Enterprise and co-hosted by Luc Bretones and Susan Aebischer.
You can watch the talk in full or read a summary below.
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Laurent begins by clarifying that his true purpose is actually to transform society, and to achieve this, he needs to change how companies function. Indeed, business runs the world these days and how it’s conducted reverberates into every other facet of our lives. Unfortunately, it’s a long road to get to that level of shared governance. Laurent explains that, while quite achievable, most participants in this transformation haven’t truly thought things through, and then get stranded in limbo, between where they once were and where they want to be. This unenviable state then leads them to abandon the entire endeavor and traps them in a traditional, pyramidal hierarchy, disappointing as that may be... Laurent has therefore prepared a few main questions that should be answered, before embarking on the deep shift away from Top-Down management.
The first thing to ask should be: Why does the client really want to change anything at all? If the reasons pushing this desire are born out of the wrong mindset, like purely financial gain, then Laurent advises to not even start, as the entire attempt will be hollowed out and doomed to failure. If, on the other hand, one wants to respond to the ever-growing complexities of the business world by gaining in agility and structure flexibility, reinvent the companies’ social impact or purpose, or create a more efficient, inclusive and engaging work-culture, then there’s a good chance that things will work out positively. Laurent reiterates that, while shareholder value shouldn’t be taboo or neglected, it simply can’t be the driving force and priority of the organization, lest their partners, clients, and employees resent the transformation-killing cynicism that that sort of capitalistic business model requires. Rather than holding up profit as the main goal, the true intent would then be to invert the entire paradigm by putting customer and employee satisfaction first, and making shareholder value as a constraint within which to work. This re-centering on the human rather than the money makes all the difference in the world. Laurent doubles down that, in his opinion, the “Milton Friedman Devotees” aren’t mature enough to handle this type of evolution, and must first see past their short-term understanding of business (and life in general), before turning their ultimate allegiance towards people instead of profit.
The second question then becomes: How can this fundamental change be implemented? Laurent answers that for such a radical shift to happen, it needs to be supported and embraced “from the top”, in the sense that if the CEO, board of directors or management group have opposition to the transformation plan, it won’t be able to take root sufficiently to see any tangible progress. It takes a gut-check, both from Laurent’s advisory point-of-view and from the client, to decide if they’re actually ready for change... but if the directors are willing to be introspective, redistribute their authority and share their powers with the collective, this sudden boost of worker freedom, security and confidence will instigate the transformation as desired. The new direction of the organization will then have to be reworked with employees from all levels, to ensure adequate representation for all its members. This obviously demands that those who occupied leadership roles previously, be comfortable with releasing their dominant position, which can be hard to do when most have been formatted to lead “heroically”. Laurent admits it’s hard to learn to step back and let others take initiative, but reminds us that sometimes, a true leader lets others learn from their successes and mistakes, preferring a long-term view of progression to myopic pursuits of financial gain.
This finally leads to the third question of: What are we actually talking about? As briefly mentioned before, to successfully implement a mindful shift towards Shared Governance, a collaboratively-built business model can be quite a useful tool, a it serves as a map towards: “What culture is wanted”, “What customer service will look like”, “What speed the roll-out will take”, etc. during the confusing initial stages of the transformation... and can be consulted at any time of the process. This multiplies the number of deciders and allows the framework of the company to reflect the widest palette of opinions possible, in an effort to avoid fanatical objections to any proposed initiatives, before they begin.
In operating along three axioms, Laurent shows how most of the pitfalls that a company tries to avoid, can be preempted by meticulous preparation, beginning at the personal level. The end result of this mindful blossoming reverberates out into every aspect of the organization, and becomes an essential step towards the final, fluid form that the company will take. This also implies that the conversation that needs to take place before any transformative endeavors, must not only be between the upper echelons of the structure that desires change, nor solely between colleagues in a more flattened hierarchy (in the case that some progress has already taken root), but inside oneself. The inner-dialogue behind the change must be as well thought-out and analytical as possible, as the success of the progress depends mostly on the personal reasons that inspired the desire to change in the first place.
New ways of working for organizations of the future.