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The C-Level Superhero: The Importance of the Executive in Leading Change

You have a secret power—a power to dispel fear and make change a reality. As an executive, you can sponsor and lead initiatives to transform the future of your organization. If the memory of change initiatives gone awry is suddenly gripping you, consider the time in which you live. In today’s economic environment, can you afford to not lead change?

This is the dilemma that faced executive search firm Korn/Ferry International. According to the company’s estimates, the U.S. will not create any net new jobs for another 16 years—particularly bad news for a company dependent on job creation. Korn/Ferry saw the current environment as the perfect opportunity to make change—shifting to become a talent solutions advisory firm focused on broader strategic client issues.

The kind of change undertaken by Korn/Ferry required a shift in the way veteran consultants approach client conversations. The success of Korn/Ferry’s initiative provides great examples of how executives can lead change:

  1. Identify the need to change. As described, the executives of the firm proactively identified how the current economic environment prompted the need and opportunity to shift the focus of the organization.

  2. Obtain outside help. Leadership understood from their own consulting experience the need to find an outside partner who could, as CMO Mike Distefano says, “understand our strategy, understand our brand, where we were and where we were trying to go, and help us to really connect our strategy to our people strategy. . .” DSG became their partner in change. 

  3. Hand-pick an advisory board for the change. While driving change, leadership knew they needed a team to guide the implementation of the initiative. DSG worked with this team to co-create tools for the firm’s global team.

  4. Facilitate teaching the change. To prove their commitment to the change, Korn/Ferry executives personally co-facilitated the workshops to train consultants on the new approach to client conversations.

  5. Participate in sustaining change. Following workshops, consultants participated in six-months of phone-based meetings with other team members. The executives both participated in calls and monitored the feedback and results.

The impact of the involvement and commitment of leadership to change at Korn/Ferry has resulted in early results from the long-term initiative.

“I think with any kind of change credibility is critical. In our organization, as in most organizations one of the things that make anything credible is if you lead by example. Our CEO has made it very clear that we will lead by example on this program and the way to do that is to have our senior people all go through it and then teach the course, be involved. By all of that attention of senior management, what you will get is our people will say, ‘This is important.’" Robert A. Damon, President, Korn/Ferry North America

How can you better use your leadership position to pursue positive change at your company?


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