Three Characteristics of XM Leaders

Earlier today, I led an roundtable discussion at SAP Select in Berlin entitled “Become a XM Transformation Leader.” This is a critical theme for many executives. If you want the benefits of Experience Management (XM), then you will need to lead a transformational journey across your organization.

If you’ve been reading my work, then you realize that XM is not about the delivery of a single great experience, but it’s a discipline that’s embedded across an organization’s operating fabric that enables it to Continuously Learn, Propagate Insights, and Rapidly Adapt.

How do you embrace this discipline? By adopting what the XM Institute has defined as the XM Operating Framework, which focuses on building six XM Competencies: Lead, Realize, Activate, Enlighten, Respond, and Disrupt.

This effort isn’t easy, and it requires a multi-year journey. In order for an organization to sustain a change agenda over that span of time, senior executives need to actively drive the effort. What does that mean for those leaders?

Three Characteristics Of Transformational Leaders

In my work with dozens of companies that have gone though transformations, I’ve observed that the most effective transformational leaders demonstrate three key characteristics. They:

  1. Communicate Why
  2. Model Desired Behaviors
  3. Reinforce Change

1) Communicate “Why”

The only way to get people to truly buy-in to change is for them to understand why it’s happening. Most executives tend to under-communicate, or they over focus on “what” the company needs to be doing and “how” it will get done. If you can land the “why” message, then people will support the change from a position of ongoing commitment, instead of just as an act of transactional compliance. Here are some ways that executives can improve their communications:

  • Develop a clear script about “why” the company is going through the change
  • Develop a clear script about “why” the change is good in the long run to your organization and its employees
  • Make sure that your direct reports fully understand why the change is going on and have their own scripts
  • Make sure that you regularly discuss the “why” in your ongoing communications

2) Model Desired Behaviors

One of our Six Laws of Customer Experience is simply: “You can’t fake it.” Your organization gauges what’s truly important not by listening to your speeches or reading your email proclamations, but by observing your actions. If people see that you haven’t changed, then they won’t change either. Here are some ways that you can model new customer-centric behaviors:

  • Look for new ways to use customer or employee feedback; consider regularly calling out to customers
  • Find ways to incorporate customer, employee, brand, or product data/insights into your decision-making
  • Start asking people-centric questions like: who is the target audience and how will this help them?
  • Make the XM change a top item on your meeting agendas; even above the normal operational items.
  • Make choices about what meetings you attend or decisions you make based on the signal it sends to the organization about your support for the change

3) Reinforce Change

It’s very easy for organizations to fall back into their regular, “comfortable” routines. So you need to make sure that you continuously and very purposefully reinforce the changed behaviors. Here are some of the things you can work on:

  • Hold your direct reports accountable for change in their organizations
  • Make “leading and supporting change” a key objective that you use to measure your direct reports
  • Publicly recognize and call out people in your organization that are acting consistently with where the company is heading
  • Don’t promote anyone in your organization, even high performers, if they are not proactively supporting the change
  • Embed the new direction in the hiring and new employee on-boarding process
  • Ask people in your organization what you could be doing to more effectively support the change
  • Develop personal goals every quarter for how you will reinforce the change

If you’re a leader who’s looking to drive transformation, then make sure to focus on these three characteristics. Your actions are more important than you think.

The bottom line: Transformation takes strong, committed leadership.

Written by 

I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

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