Getting it right: Integrative leadership strategy in action

An emergency services case study 

Like many other consultants, there is always a handful of projects that have challenged you more than others. I would like to share my broad-brush stroke experiences of one particular project that helped me formulate and consolidate integrative leadership skills. Below follows my brief outline of this experience.

My experience began when I was appointed to lead a transofrmation process in a major emergency services organisation comprised of some ten thousand staff members. The obvious challenges facing me were further exacerbated by the fact that the change process involved advancing the organisation’s IT system twenty-five years ahead, all in one great big leap.

This was not a tweak of the existing system: it was the complete replacement and implementation of a leading ERP environment. It was the replacement of a system that people had grown attached to over many years.  To increase the intensity of the challenges posed by this project, the organisation was a highly unionised environment with great sensitivity to any change affecting workplace practices.

Against this background, I set about gaining an in depth understanding of the operations and current practices of the organisation across its many and varied divisions and their respective operations. As the entity was a public sector organisation, my role also extended to assisting with the preparation and lodgement of the business case proposal to obtain funding approval from the local state government minister. Obtaining funding was in itself a challenge as two previous attempts had met with failure. A process ensued which included obtaining funding approval and preparing the organisation for the process that was about to unfold.

Once the project had begun in earnest, it very quickly became evident that despite the fact that the various leaders of several divisions acknowledged that the change was imperative for the continued effectiveness of the entity, no two people agreed on how to achieve the desired outcome. Resistance and personal agendas dominated the project environment and permeated the executive ranks making co-operation and cohesion very challenging. Every aspect of my leadership ability, my skills and knowledge were put to the test.

As the project progressed, I developed a strategy to obtain the support of each division, their leaders and staff.  This required the development of strategy at different levels with different approaches for each division in order to achieve the desired overall outcome – the successful implementation of the transformation. Some divisions involved skills issues coupled with resistance emanating from the perceived loss of jobs. Others revolved around territorial ownership of functions that had existed for many years and would now no longer be required.

Over the period of the project, the strategy for each area of resistance was addressed in a staged process. This led to the divisions slowly lowering their resistance and engaging in the road forward. As each division negotiated their role in the new system the spontaneous involvement increased.

Strategy was implemented for training to ensure staff would cope and be well equipped for the first day of the new system. I established clear and safe channels for members to access my office to either express in person, or by other means, any concerns that they were experiencing during the process.

Several months later, the project was declared a success and had been implemented on time and within budget. I remain convinced that this would not have been possible without the development of an integrative leadership strategy: one that encompassed all facets of addressing the challenges of my leadership role.

I would value the opportunity to discuss the project in more detail with any leaders who may be facing a similar situation, and how our organisation could assist overcome the many and varied challenges faced in today’s disruptive environment.