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Nine steps to meaningful change

November 13, 2022
Borderless Leadership

“Change is the law of life,” said John F. Kennedy, “And those who look only to the past and present are certain to miss the future.”

Easier said than done.

By nature, we humans – along with virtually all other creatures – like what we know and distrust what we don’t; seek our comfort zones and shun our wilderness experiences; prefer the familiar and fear the unknown.

Now, if each one of us is that way (until, of course, we learn to value newness, uncertainty, and ambiguity), then dealing with an entire organization of skeptics could be a Sisyphean task.

That’s all the more reason to approach change in a planned, thoughtful way. As we will never again live in a world without significant change, here’s a suggested nine-step road map, especially when change has to be interventional.

1. Establish the sense of urgency. If change is not needed, either is leadership. Status quo – sometimes a good thing – requires great management. But the minute change is needed, it becomes urgent, and great leadership steps in. Urgency creates momentum, and the gloomy alternative is inertia. Great leaders treat change as an urgent matter, even tough much change is slow and gradual. Deciding on that change is where the urgency is.

2. Create a steering/guiding coalition. Given either the fear of or the resistance to change, not just on the part of humans but of most creatures great and small, a small core of influencers at what could be different levels of the organization should be established to conceptualize this change and agree on how it will begin, unfold, and ultimately take shape.

3. Gather diverse but not uncontrollable input. That you need input here is a given. What it should look like and be like is the real issue. It should not be monolithic, because, as it is said, if everyone is thinking alike, only one person is thinking – and that leads to the always dangerous and almost always disastrous phenomenon: called groupthink. On the other hand, you don’t want wild, uncontrolled anarchy here either, as that will likely derail the process right here. Exciting, energetic, and even competitive ideas crashing into each other are what you’re after at this point.

4. Develop the core of your vision and mission. With urgency established, leadership in place, and initial input gathered, it’s time to firm up your vision and mission, to decide what it is you’re going to be rolling out. By the way, I’ve found that, when asked the difference between vision and mission, most people don’t have a good answer, not even some top leaders. In short, vision is your dream; mission is your work.

5. Communicate the change and new ideas. Now comes the biggest challenge of the change process: letting everyone know. When a colleague and I led a change process engagement with one of the world’s largest electronics manufacturers, we allotted six months to the previous four steps, and eighteen months to this one alone. Getting the message out in a well-planned way – setting up a system for feedback, receiving and gauging that feedback, creating dialog channels, reinforcing and perpetuating the process, and permanently imprinting it on your organization’s DNA – does not happen overnight.

6. Empower broad-based action at all levels. By this time, the word’s out – and that word must be turned into action. Numerous studies have consistently shown that the more inclusive this step is, the more effective – and lasting – the whole change process will be. This is where “Nobody s a spectator” becomes the rule with no exceptions. People feel good about being included – and equally bad, if not more, about being excluded. It’s a remarkable grasp of the obvious, perhaps, but it needs to be said.

7. Foster immediate small success stories. Give everyone something to do at the outset – even small things – that can’t fail. You never have to recover from a good start, says the old adage, and here’s your chance.

8. Create momentum for gain in order to institutionalize the process. One-time successes are good, but they don’t self-sustain. If the practice of immediate small successes is repeated, it becomes expected, and when it does, it takes on a life of its own.

9. Spawn new practices and approaches by injecting them into your corporate culture. Riding the wave created by this momentum, new practices – along with attitudes, values, beliefs, and norms – emerge that are, indeed, the proof that the change you were striving for has actually happened.

By Eli Amdur


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