In the modern world of business, companies are usually forced to engage in stiff competition to survive in the market. One of the consequences of this is that organizations often have to make attempts to introduce innovations to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals. Also, nowadays, the rates at which knowledge and technology development are extremely high. This results in the need to constantly implement change in businesses. Thus, companies need to consider which factors may have a significant impact on the process of change implementation and its chance of success. Because an initiative and effort are needed for a chance to start, it is also important to consider the role of a leader in implementing innovation.
Therefore, this paper consists of two main parts. The first part provides several factors that authors consider critical for a chance to successfully take place in an organization. The second part investigates the roles that leaders need to play effectively to implement an innovation. The findings are briefly summarized at the end of the paper.
Critical Success Factors
Today, organizations have to implement change at rather high speed (Miles 2013). In addition to the fact that introducing change might be risky on its own, for one cannot calculate all the consequences of change, there are numerous barriers to innovation, such as resistance to change or a lack of resources. Therefore, to successfully implement an innovation, several certain conditions need to be met. Authors sometimes differ in their opinions about what these critical success factors are, but some of such factors that are spoken of in the literature are as follows:
- Detailed plans and analysis, and a clear vision of the change (Ball 2015; Buh, Kovaci & Stemberger 2015; Chrusciel & Field 2006; Monroe & Pagliari 2008). It is needed to assess the current situation that the organization is in now, develop a clear vision of where it should move as a result of the implementation of the innovation, and create a plan of its integration into the firm.
- Communication (Ball 2015; Chrusciel & Field 2006; Kash et al. 2014). It is needed to properly communicate what the change should be, why it is needed, and what the stakeholders of the organization will receive as its result.
Successful and effective communication of the details of the innovation is paramount not only because the stakeholders need to know in which direction the company is moving; it will also allow for addressing some of the barriers to successful change implementation. For instance, it may help deal with resistance to change among the employees of the organization, persuade the company’s leadership that a particular innovation will increase the company’s profits, and so on (Chrusciel & Field 2006). It is crucial to make sure that several communication channels are available to all stakeholders, and that they never suffer from the dearth of information about the current change (Ball 2015).
- Motivation (Ball 2015; Kash et al. 2014; Chrusciel & Field 2006). The stakeholders of an organization need to be strongly motivated if the process of implementing change is to be successful. It is also essential to help the stakeholders realize what their gain from the change will be (Chrusciel & Field 2006). However, in certain cases, some of the stakeholders may have very little to gain from the change – as in the case of a merger, for instance. However, in this or other dire situations, it is needed to explain to the employees that the company is likely to fall if e.g. the merger does not take place (Ball 2015).
- Training the staff to use the innovations (Chrusciel & Field 2006). It is also very important to ensure that all the members of the company’s personnel are capable of properly utilizing the results of the innovations, be it a piece of technology or a structural change (Miles 2013). Managers need to be the key figures who train their subordinates to ensure that all of them have a sufficient amount of skill and knowledge of how to use the innovations. Importantly, if the need of the staff to study how to use the fruits of the implementation of change is not addressed, the personnel may feel additional frustration due to the increased workload, and might not meet the level of knowledge which is required to properly utilize the innovation; this is likely result in suboptimal performance. In case of structural changes, staff also needs help to learn to properly act in the new structure; for instance, members of an organization which previously had a strong hierarchy may need assistance in breaking their habits of simply doing what they were told to do, and learn to work in a more horizontal structure where decisions are made collectively in teams (Burrus 2010).
- The critical mass of the personnel (Chrusciel & Field 2006). If innovation is to be integrated, and this integration is to be effective, then it is a requirement that the critical mass of the members of the staff support this innovation and are willing to work to properly realize it.
- Good and efficacious management (Ball 2015; Kash et al. 2014). The staff needs to be appropriately managed, for when changes are implemented, the personnel finds themselves in a completely new situation to which they are not accustomed and which they yet do not know how to handle. It is also crucial to ensure that the workload is not too large, for overwhelmed workers might quickly lose enthusiasm and start feeling frustration in regards to the innovation, which will result in suboptimal effectiveness and possible problems with the further implementation of this innovation (Ball 2015).
- Constant evaluation (Ball 2015; Keenan et al. 2015). It is paramount to continuously evaluate the results of the change in an organization to make sure that the innovation indeed has benefits as its results, as well as to be able to introduce the necessary corrections and adjustments if the latter is not the case or if there is a threat to the business or the personnel. Feedback from the stakeholders (including the workers) should also be collected and analyzed for the same purpose.
Apart from mentioning the critical success factors, it should also be stressed that, according to Buh, Kovaci, and Stemberger (2015), the importance of these factors might vary depending on the stage at which the process of implementation of change currently is. For instance, it is clear that teaching employees how to use the innovation is critical when the process of implementation has only started, but it gradually loses its importance and finally becomes not needed when the innovation has already become a new routine in the organization.
The Role of Effective Leadership
For a chance to be introduced in an organization, an initiative for this change needs to emerge. Therefore, it is required that a proponent of this innovation takes the role of a leader of its implementation and makes the steps that are necessary for this change to take place.
While introducing change, a leader will need to perform an array of functions effectively, or else the initiative will fail. For instance, it has already been stressed that a critical mass of staff needs to support the idea if it is to root in the firm. Thus, a leader needs to make sure that such a critical mass emerges and continuously exists.
According to different authors, some of the functions that a leader needs to perform effectively, and the roles of these functions, are as follows:
- The advocate for the innovation (Mehta, Maheshwari & Sharma 2014). As has been stressed above, a leader needs to gather a critical mass of the person if the change is to take place. However, only gathering such a “mass” is not enough; it is also paramount to make sure that a sufficient number of people remain, proponents of the new idea at all times, so the innovation does not “die out” because too few people are interested in it, and too little attention is being paid to it. It is also critical to address the resistance to change if the initiative is to be successfully implemented (Jóhannsdóttir, Ólafsson & Davidsdottir 2015).
- Change designer and controller (Griffith-Cooper & King 2007). The leader is the person who plans the intervention aimed at the implementation of a change and adjusts it while the innovation is being introduced (Parker et al. 2013). It is the role of a leader to comprehend the scope of the change and to create a project of its implementation. The plan for introducing the innovation needs to be created, communicated to the others, and its implementation needs to start. Since the leader is the person from whom the initiative comes in the first place, it falls to them to start this process. Also, the plan of implementation needs to be regularly adjusted to the changing conditions of the organization, and the leaders should perform or at least oversee this process. Therefore, a leader of change should not only lead the people of an organization; they also ought to manage the process of the implementation of change.
- A pattern-breaker. It should also be stressed that, while designing and overseeing the process of change, leaders must realize that their organization is a complex system and that they are also a part of it (Higgs & Rowland 2010). To implement an innovation, it is needed to change the usual pattern according to which everyone acts. Therefore, leaders need to be able to start acting in a new way, the way which is appropriate for the innovation in question and provide an example for their subordinates to follow. It is stated that failure to recognize such patterns may often fail in an attempt to change implementation (Higgs & Rowland 2010).
- The model to be followed. According to a study by Michaelis, Stegmaier, and Sonntag (2009), the presence of charismatic leaders in an organization and the trust of employees in these leaders were associated with higher levels of behavior aimed at implementing changes and innovation. Furthermore, Mehta, Maheshwari, and Sharma (2014) found out that people-oriented (along with task-oriented) behaviors of leaders are important for change implementation in an organization. Therefore, a charismatic leader whom the personnel trusts and who provides a model to be followed might play an important role when it comes to stimulating adherence to change and innovation.
- The teacher/accommodator/educator (Chrusciel & Field 2006). It has also been highlighted that change requires the agents whom it touches to be able to handle it and to use it properly, for which purpose the skills of such handling and use are necessary. Thus, the leader of the change needs to make sure that the staff of the organization have all the required skills. It is, therefore, the role of the leader to teach the employees to use the fruits of innovation. Usually, the leader can teach a selected number of people (such as the managers) to use the skills, and these individuals will then distribute the knowledge among the others. However, the leader might still have to oversee the process and provide assistance in case it is needed.
- The person who ensures that the change becomes a part of the organization. It has already been noted that a leader needs to manage the process of change implementation (Griffith-Cooper & King 2007). It is also important to stress that the duty to ensure that the change becomes a part of the organization also falls to the leader. The leader needs to see through the process of introducing innovation and to make sure that the company has implemented it efficaciously.
Therefore, a leader is a key person when it comes to implementing change. It is the work of the leader to manage the process of change implementation, break the usual patterns, and lead the people, inspiring them to adhere to the innovation and make this innovation a part of their working process. If a leader is ineffective in these duties, an attempt to introduce a change into an organization appears likely to fail (Higgs & Rowland 2010; Parker et al. 2013).
Therefore, it should be stressed that several factors may be considered critical for the successful implementation of an innovation in a company. These factors include the creation of detailed plans of change and a clear vision of the innovation; effective communication related to the change; high levels of motivation to introduce the innovation; sufficient level of training among the staff; the existence of a critical mass of employees who support the change; efficacious management; and constant evaluation of the process of change implementation. Also, the leader of change needs to play the following roles: the advocate for innovation; the designer and controller of the plan of change implementation; the breaker of the usual patterns of action; the model to be followed; the accommodator of the personnel to change; and the controller who makes sure that the innovation becomes rooted in the organization. These roles must be played effectively by the leader if the change is to be implemented successfully in an organization.
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