Accounting for change Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008
When Brad Branch took over as managing partner of the Atlanta/Birmingham practice of Deloitte LLP in January, he didn’t have to spend months trying to understand what to do next. After 30 years and several leadership roles across two continents with the firm, he already had a feel for how to take his practice— one of the firm’s 10 largest in the country — to the next level.

“The change was really two things,” Branch says. “One was to deliver one Deloitte — how we go to market. The other was to really take advantage of our size. There are a lot of things you can do in the marketplace as the Goliath. ... The change was to get us focused but also to get us acting like we had capabilities that our competitors did not.”

With any major change — even if you’re not part of a $9.85 billion professional services firm like Branch’s — you’ll need to follow certain principles to ensure success. He says leaders have to do three crucial things: Define the reality, paint the vision and provide hope. After doing these things, he already has seen changes in his firm.

“The talk and the thinking that we’re seeing now throughout the firm around delivering one Deloitte to the marketplace is really inspirational,” he says.

Branch is proud at how quickly he’s seen his 1,500 people adopt that mentality and communicate more across functions to better serve clients.

“You can hear it in the break rooms,” he says. “You can hear it as they talk to our partners. You can hear them thinking about it when they’re organizing their plans around serving our customer. ... We’re starting to see the fruits of our labors and the actions in how we’re actually going to market and how we’re serving our clients reflects a one Deloitte way of doing business.”

To successfully lead your own change, here’s how to do those three crucial things.

Define reality

In any change process, you first have to explain the status quo to the people in your organization.

“The leader has to first define reality,” Branch says. “Defining reality is important to understand what the current situation is and defining a reason for change.”

He says this must be done on two separate levels. “It occurs at the institutional level where you look at the marketplace and the overall factors causing change, but you also have to define a reality for all individuals involved because change is personal,” he says.

In order to clearly see what reality your company is facing, you have to be honest.

“Unbiased objectivity is really important to defining reality,” he says. “Not a slanted view, not a view that is for any other purpose than to paint the facts so that everyone can start on a level playing field.”

Objectivity is best found in facts. “Oftentimes, facts are hard to come by,” Branch says. “Sometimes data is hard to come by ... but having facts and having a fact-based analysis is really important to define reality. That takes some research.”

In defining Deloitte’s reality, he looked at what the company was capable of delivering against the market and competitors and what he considered to be important to achieving success. One change associated with that was to build Deloitte’s international work. He saw that a lot of the work in Atlanta was either coming in from or affecting other countries, and if it was that heavily focused now, he could only imagine what it would look like in five years.

“One of the things about change is, the changes that are most successful are those that are marketplace-driven,” Branch says.” Having a burning platform is really important in order to make sure the change happens and that you get all of the enrollment and buy-in of an employee base.”

While you may have facts and be able to clearly present those facts to people, you also have to make that reality personal.

“One of the things that I’ve learned is that all politics is local,” Branch says. “Well, for an individual, all change is personal. The reality of change and the effects of the current situation on an individual is important also to consider.”

To best do that, he suggests having someone who can easily relate to your employees communicate that reality.

“Defining the reality for the individual has to be done at a level relevant for that person ... in a place that is closest to him or her,” he says. “That is the supervisor or team of individuals comprised at that level to gather the facts around what’s going on, what needs to change and what impact the change will have on the individuals.”

Create the vision

After you’ve defined the reality of the situation for your people, you next have to show them where you’re going.

“The second thing a leader is responsible for doing is delivering a vision around what the future state will be and the benefits and what life will be like or what the situation will be after the change occurs,” Branch says.

Creating the vision, like defining the reality, is grounded in what the market is doing.

“It’s fact-based, and it’s based on the business imperative,” he says.

“There is a data element to it. There’s a factual element and a research element of understanding the facts of things that a reoccurring around you. It’s sensing where the market is going, and it’s putting all the data together to create some assumptions —some hypotheses — of what’s going to be important in three, four, five years.”

Once you have an idea of the future, you have to make it actionable.

“Put that together in terms of ‘What do we have to do at 9 o’clock on Monday morning to build those capabilities and change the organization to be effective in that marketplace,’” Branch says. “That’s the important piece.”

He suggests creating a road map for the change you’re implementing.

“Along that road map, there are different streams of work that relate to different pieces of the organization or processes or technology that have to change,” he says. “You have the requisite milestones of things that are expected to be done at a certain period in time.”

Having a road map with milestones allows everyone to have a common tool to track the progress, and then you have to create subcategories for the road maps.

For example, Branch says if there is a plan related to technology, that will probably have several subcomponents because there may be many systems or applications associated with technology.

“Break down the overall road map of going from current state to future state into actionable work streams with benchmarks or milestones to know that you’re getting there actually,” Branch says. “That’s how change processes are deployed effectively in an organization.”

When setting those benchmarks, you have to take into account your organization’s capabilities to change.

“The philosophy on how you set those as to how aggressive you want to be, how much you claim that you want to have accomplished in a set period of time, all of that is related to the entity’s capability to change — that is how quickly the ability for a company to change but also how aggressive or substantial the change imperative actually is,” Branch says.

While a written vision with benchmarks is important, the vision lies in more than apiece of paper.

“When I say vision, it’s not just describing it in a document,” Branch says. “It’s for the leader to be personally identified with the future state. That is delivering the vision. Most effective leaders are those that can be readily identified with a future state, and we see it all the time in business where senior executives are identified with changes that are effected in their organizations.”

Provide hope

After you’ve defined reality and created the vision, you still have to help your people believe they can get there.

“Third, and probably the most important one, an important thing a leader can do is provide hope and the inspirations for all of the people involved in the change to believe that success will happen and it will be a good thing,” Branch says. “Providing hope is a very important thing for a leader to do, and I assure you you’re not going to find that in any of the textbooks around change management.”

There are two elements crucial to providing hope in your organization.

“The first is showing up,” he says. “A big part of providing hope is to show up personally in a change process.”

He says that being visible and accessible is the single most important thing in the change process from the leadership perspective because it provides inspiration.

“People associate change initiatives —again all change is personal — with the leaders personally,” Branch says. “If Brad doesn’t show up, then it’s considered to be either not important or not supported — a whole variety of negative reactions can occur if the leader doesn’t show up. Being visible is the single most important thing.”

But even if you show up, you have to be there mentally — not just physically.

“Stay connected,” he says. “Talk to people, talk to partners, talk to staff. Listen to everyone, but just be available. You’ll be surprised what you’ll pick up. It’s just amazing the great things you learn from your people.”

Branch will often ask about how the change is going, what they see, what changes have they noticed, and is it easier for them to be effective or do their work. He says to then listen specifically for feedback and opinions about what’s going on.

“The most important part of good listening is not talking,” Branch says. “I don’t mean that flippantly, but listen to what people say in a nonjudgmental fashion so they feel empowered and open to talk.”

This helps them not be nervous about talking to you as a senior person in the organization. Then you have to take that feedback to heart.

“If you’re soliciting opinions, it’s important to really listen to those opinions and use those opinions around what the final judgment is going to be,” he says. “It has to be genuine.”

While you may not be able to incorporate all their feedback, if they’ve been heard, it goes a long way in providing hope and creating buy-in.

“If the opinions are valued, part of the outcome, even though they may not agree with the outcome, as long as they’ve been heard and considered, that tends to work pretty well,” he says.

The other element of providing hope is providing support even when things get rough.

“Not all change happens perfectly,” Branch says. “Change is hard for a reason — it is difficult. Providing hope is providing support in the face of adversity so when things don’t go well or there are setbacks, to continue to have confidence in the team, in the people, in the change process.”

To do that, you have redefine your reality. “You’ll define reality throughout the process,” he says. “Keeping a view of delivering the vision — you do that constantly.”

This will build trust and help people get through the process successfully.

“Change isn’t a destination,” Branch says. “It’s a process. Halfway through the change process, if the destination changes, that’s OK, and you would expect that as you learn more and as you become more competent on the marketplace.”

HOW TO REACH: Deloitte LLP, (404) 220-1500