Over the past quarter-century I’ve learned that the public transportation authorities that are really good at getting significant, out of the box change accomplished are invariably led by a CEO/GM who is passionately committed to playing – and well prepared to play – what I call the Innovator-in-Chief role. The CEO/GM is the only person in your authority who can wear the Innovator-in-Chief hat for the simple reason that no one else brings to the change game the formal authority, influence, access to resources, and time required to spearhead an out-of-the-box change effort and to overcome the inevitable inertia and resistance that can sink a change ship early in its voyage.
Experience has taught me that CEOs/GMs who succeed at the Innovator-in-Chief role are what I think of as “change-savvy.” The change-savvy CEOs/GMs that I’ve worked with and observed over the past quarter-century:
- Are technically very knowledgeable about best practices in the rapidly changing area of change planning and management, which means they aren’t wedded to conventional planning wisdom and out-of-date approaches. You’ll never hear a change-savvy CEO extolling the virtues of traditional long-range (or “strategic”) planning as a change tool, much less catch her fondling a ten pound five-year plan.
- Realize that successfully bringing off out-of-the-box change against all odds requires that they make leading the change planning and implementation process a top-tier priority. In practice, this means that the change-savvy CEO makes a firm commitment of time to leading change from the top, and never tries to delegate one piece or another of this leadership role to lieutenants.
- Recognize that leading out-of-the-box change as Innovator-in-Chief of the transportation authority is more psychological and political in nature than technical. Not only does the change-savvy CEO/GM understand that fear is more often than not at the heart of staff resistance to change, she also takes strong, visible steps to allay that fear, for example through the clear articulation of vision and other motivational steps that are intended to inspire and energize participants in the change process. The change-savvy CEO also pays close attention to the transformation of key stakeholders into ardent Change champions.
- And command the respect of staff members and key stakeholders, primarily by playing a very aggressive and visible change leadership role and practicing what he’s preaching in the change arena. A change-savvy CEO/GM knows that her leadership credibility depends on “walking the talk,” never contradicting in practice what she’s saying publically.
Joe Calabrese, Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transportation Authority, is without question a highly successful Innovator-In-Chief, as this podcast describing GCRTA’s innovative Transit-Stat program illustrates.