There is a bucolic meadow over the next hill. It is filled with just the right amount of sun and shade. Crystal clear water flows over a little waterfall into a pond. A sumptuous picnic is set out for you. The temperature is a balmy 74 and there is a hammock with your name on it. Ahhh, but to get there you have to climb up the hill in front of you. You have to make this climb while tieing complicated knots. And…it is raining on this side of the hill. This hike could take hours… Would you go for it or would you hunker down under an overhanging rock to tie your knots? You might chat with your fellow hikers and suggest:
- What if there is just another hill after this one?
- What if the picnic isn’t that good after all?
- What if there are bears over there?
How do you motivate humans to climb a hill in search of a better state? In business-speak, how do you get your employees to embrace difficult change even when there is a promised bright outcome? This is a problem faced regularly in the fast paced world in which we live. It is no longer ok to slowly evolve. Companies, functions, teams and individuals need to adapt more quickly or they will lose to another.
I have been steeped in the art and science of transformation recently as I’ve tackled challenging change projects with my corporate clients. It is a fascinating subject and one that I long to master. Given the rate of change I’ve just discussed, I don’t think it is possible to master anything completely. As soon as you “get it” more information is available. But I am going to climb the difficult hill to get to a better place of understanding.
Here are the truths I know to be the foundation of transformation:
- Pick a grand vision with some heart. Continuous improvement is another subject. It is a good thing but not the same thing. And if you plan to involve more than a few people, you need to tug at heartstrings.
- Get on the same page. The leadership team needs to have a shared view of the future state. How to get there can be up for debate but the vision needs to be clear.
- Debate and even disagree. Transparent concerns are much better than passive aggressive resistance. Get it all said out loud and then pick a path and move forward.
- Stay nimble. There will be redirects. Adapt to them but keep the direction constant. Success isn’t a straight line but it should be measurable and should track in the right direction.
- Make room. Carve out the bandwidth to do the work. Stop doing some things to take on this new work. Come on. People were already busy. If you really believe in the future state then you can justify either a redirect or an investment of resources.
- Anoint the right leaders. Pick change leaders who are both good managers and good leaders. Execution, details, driving for results are hallmarks of good management. Picking the right path, inspiring others and breaking through inevitable obstacles are outcomes of good leadership.
- Build a change engine. The skill to transform organizations is becoming a key differentiator. There are very few companies that can avoid this need and those that can are probably small and stagnant. If a company is growing, shrinking or evolving these skills are critical. Train, develop, practice, reward, repeat.
The truth is, we are good at changing. Think of where you were 20 years ago. Now, harness that energy and knowledge of how far you have come to fuel your own change engine.