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Leadership summits, where the top 100 leaders get together over a few days to hear about key achievements and strategy going forward, are a perfect opportunity to get traction with your change plans.

I want to illustrate this by using a scenario of what usually happens and the often missed opportunity to achieve momentum in the organisation and engagement for your change initiatives.
Let’s use this case study as an example.

A large UK firm has a leadership summit and 120 leaders have been invited, it is led by the CEO and it’s his prerogative to decide what is and isn’t included. In this instance the CEO has decided that the issue of mental health and workplace stress is going to be the HR topic. You have 3 hours allocated to this session and it is going to include the CEO making a speech on why it is a priority for leaders to focus on. The Health and Safety team then give some real case examples, not including names of employees, and what the indicators are that leaders should be aware of. An activity is planned where leaders discuss symptoms of mental health, issues that could be causing workplace stress and possible solutions. A booklet is distributed to all attendees highlighting options such as wellness programs, counselling, and interventions to deal with what is the root cause of the issue of stress in the workplace and what can be done.
Everyone leaves feeling better informed than when they started the day and the CEO is pleased with himself that he was progressive enough to raise the issue. Everyone is happy including the H&S team as it has now highlighted mental health as a significant issue and they expect an increased take up of their wellness program.

What’s wrong with this picture? If the intent was only to create awareness then fine. The lost opportunity here was to leverage the session to get traction outside of the summit and therefore create momentum for this issue. We sometimes assume that leaders can connect the dots and know what to do next, however in most cases they can’t, this is not their core role. Often if you provide guidance on what to do and why you will get the outcomes you are seeking. Here’s what they could have done instead, it just needed a tweak at the end of the session.
In this case the key is the CEO’s support. Whenever you have this you need to make the most of it whilst the issue is on his radar. Many areas are vying for his attention, you are lucky in many respects to have achieved it. So with this pre requisite the turnkey in this session was for the CEO to ask his leadership team, whilst they are all there, to do something specific and report back to him.

Process changes behaviour – it is not enough to raises awareness if you want behavioural change. So here we are at this summit and we get to the last half hour of the session.
The CEO hears what each group has to say about actions that each of the leadership teams acknowledge that they could take with their teams to alleviate stress in the workplace. So now the CEO asks each of them to discuss the issue with their teams and ensure it is cascaded to the frontline for discussion at their team meetings. In addition, and this is the important part, he asks for each to be accountable for the next six weeks, that action plans on this issue are developed and to review the impact on tangible measures such as absenteeism, sick leave and workers compensation claims.

Each leader is taken through what to do with a detailed activity outline and they are informed that specific activities will be emailed to them immediately post the summit. They are told that HR will monitor and feedback the cumulative actions and outcomes to each business division head. They in turn will discuss with their executive leadership teams and it will be on the agenda for the weekly CEO meeting that will be held in two months.

What has happened here is that the responsibility has now shifted to the leadership team, it is the role of HR to provide support and solutions, not to do the implementation.
This is just one example of how you can leverage leadership summits and achieve behavioural change. The role of change communication is about creating momentum for change not just about delivering information and creating awareness.

No matter what the topic, the next time you have an opportunity for the CEO to support one of your key initiatives ask yourself how you can build something into the session to leverage change and the CEO’s commitment to drive it.

Change should always be leadership driven, our challenge is to identify the strategy to make this happen.

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