by Mike Myatt
First the bad news: If you’re not willing to embrace change you’re not ready to lead. Put simply, leadership is not a static endeavor. In fact, leadership demands fluidity, which requires the willingness to recognize the need for change, and finally the ability to lead change.
Now the good news: As much as some people want to create complexity around the topic of leading change for personal gain, the reality is that creating, managing and leading change is really quite simple. To prove my point, I’ll not only explain the entire change life-cycle in three short paragraphs, but I’ll do it in simple terms that anyone can understand. As a bonus I’ll also give you 10 items to assess in evaluating whether the change you’re considering is value added, or just change for the sake of change.
An Overview on the Importance of Change:
While there is little debate that the successful implementation of change can create an extreme competitive advantage, it is not well understood that the lack of doing so can send a company (or an individual’s career) into a death spiral. Companies that seek out and embrace change are healthy, growing, and dynamic organizations, while companies that fear change are stagnant entities on their way to a slow and painful death.
Agility, innovation, disruption, fluidity, decisiveness, commitment, and above all else a bias toward action will lead to the creation of change. It is the implementation of change which results in evolving, growing and thriving companies. Much has been written about the importance of change, but there is very little information in circulation about how to actually create it.
While most executives and entrepreneurs have come to accept the concept of change management as a legitimate business practice, and change leadership as a legitimate executive priority in theory, I have found very few organizations that have effectively integrated change as a core discipline and focus area in reality. As promised, and without further ado, the change life-cycle in three easy steps:
A. Identifying the Need for Change: The need for change exists in every organization. Other than irrational change solely for the sake of change, every corporation must change to survive. If your entity doesn’t innovate and change in accordance with market driven needs and demands it will fail…it’s just that simple. The most complex area surrounding change is focusing your efforts in the right areas, for the right reasons, and at the right times. The ambiguity and risk can be taken out of the change agenda by simply focusing on three areas:
- Your current customers – What needs to change to better serve your customers?
- Potential customers – What needs to change to profitably create new customers?
- Your talent and resources – What changes need to occur to better leverage existing talent and resources?
B. Leading Change: You cannot effectively lead change without understanding the landscape of change. There are four typical responses to change:
- The Victim – Those that view change as a personal attack on their persona, their role, their job, or their area of responsibility. They view everything at an atomic level based upon how they perceive change will directly and indirectly impact them.
- The Neutral Bystander – This group is neither for nor against change. They will not directly or vocally oppose change, nor will they proactively get behind change. The Neutral Bystander will just go with the flow not wanting to make any waves, and thus hoping to perpetually fly under the radar.
- The Critic – The Critic opposes any and all change. Keep in mind that not all critics are overt in their resistance. Many critics remain in stealth mode trying to derail change behind the scenes by using their influence on others. Whether overt or covert, you must identify critics of change early in the process if you hope to succeed.
- The Advocate – The Advocate not only embraces change, they will evangelize the change initiative. Like The Critics, it is important to identify The Advocates early in the process to not only build the power base for change, but to give momentum and enthusiasm to the change initiative.
Once you’ve identified these change constituencies you must involve all of them, message properly to each of them, and don’t let up. With the proper messaging and involvement even adversaries can be converted into allies.
C. Managing Change: Managing change requires that key players have control over four critical elements:
- Vision Alignment – Those that understand and agree with your vision must be leveraged in the change process. Those that disagree must be converted or have their influence neutralized.
- Responsibility – Your change agents must have a sufficient level of responsibility to achieve the necessary results.
- Accountability – your change agents must be accountable for reaching their objectives.
- Authority – If the first three items are in place, yet your change agents have not been given the needed authority to get the job done the first three items won’t mean much. You must set your change agents up for success and not failure by giving them the proper tools, talent, resources, responsibility and authority necessary for finishing the race.
There you have it; the three pillars of change in three short paragraphs. Now that you understand change, here’s are the ten points that need validating prior to launching a change initiative:
- Alignment and Buy-in: The change being considered should be in alignment with the overall values, vision and mission of the enterprise. Senior leadership must champion any new initiative. If someone at the C-suite level is against the new initiative it will likely die a slow and painful death.
- Advantage: If the initiative doesn’t provide a unique competitive advantage it should at least bring you closer to an even playing field.
- Value Add: Any new project should preferably add value to existing initiatives, and if not, it should show a significant enough return on investment to justify the dilutive effect of not keeping the main thing the main thing.
- Due Diligence: Just because an idea sounds good doesn’t mean it is. You should endeavor to validate proof of concept based upon detailed, credible research. Do your homework – put the change initiative through a rigorous set of risk/reward and cost/benefit analyses. Forget this step and you won’t be able to find a rock big enough to hide under.
- Ease of Use: Whether the new initiative is intended for your organization, vendors, suppliers, partners or customers it must be easy to use. Usability drives adoptability, and therefore it pays to keep things simple (see this post).
- Identify the Risks: Nothing is without risk, and when you think something is without risk that is when you’re most likely to end-up in trouble. All initiatives should include detailed risk management provisions that contain sound contingency and exit planning.
- Measurement: Any change initiative should be based upon solid business logic that drives corresponding financial engineering and modeling. Be careful of high level, pie-in-the-sky projections. The change being adopted must be measurable. Deliverables, benchmarks, deadlines, and success metrics must be incorporated into the plan.
- The Project: Many companies treat change as some ethereal form of management hocus pocus that will occur by osmosis. A change initiative must be treated as a project. It must be detailed and deliverable on a schedule. The initiative should have a beginning, middle and end.
- Accountability: Any new initiative should contain accountability provisions. Every task should be assigned and managed according to a plan and in the light of day.
- Actionable: A successful initiative cannot remain in a strategic planning state. It must be actionable through focused tactical implementation. If the change initiative being contemplated is good enough to get through the other nine steps, then it’s good enough to execute.
Has this been useful? Have I left anything out, or got anything wrong?
Sound-off in the comments below!