Leading change is messy

Leading change is not that straightforward. There is no one best way to lead change.

The best approach always depends on the situation. What works well in for example a turnaround situation, where there already is a sense of urgency, can fail miserably in realignment or accelerated growth, where many people may be in denial about the need for change. How can you get some order or control in this mess?

The following straightforward thinking and planning process can help you to get prepared before embarking on any change:

  1. Awareness - Are there sufficient awareness of the need for change in your organisation? You need a critical mass of people. If yes you can move to the next step. If no, need to raise awareness and overcome denial.
  2. Diagnosis - Do you know what needs to be changed and why? Have you done a thorough diagnosis of problems and/or opportunities? If yes you can move to the next step. If not, you need to engage in root-cause diagnosis.
  3. Vision - Do you have a compelling vision and solid strategy? Have you communicated this vision? Have you got buy in from key stakeholders? If yes you can move to the next step. If not, you need to engage in strategizing, vision and getting buy in from the organisation.
  4. Plan - Do you have a detailed plan for implementation? Don’t rush into making changes no matter how small, step back and plan, otherwise you get your organisation confused. If you have a plan, you can move to the next step. If not, you need to engage into planning.
  5. Support – Do you have a sufficient/critical mass of support for implementing the changes? If yes, you can go ahead rolling out your change initiatives. If you don’t have, you need to engage in alliances and coalition building.

This approach works well in turnround situations, where people accept there is a problem and hungry for solution. If any of the above five conditions are not met, you can get stuck with your plans for change. If your goal is less about turnaround more about realignment when people are denial about the need for change, they are likely meet your plan with stony silence or active resistance. You may therefore need to build awareness of the need for change. Or you may need to sharpen the diagnosis of the problem, create a compelling vision and strategy, or develop a solid cross-functional implementation plan or spend time creating a collation in support of change.

In addition to the above exercise you need to make sure to identify and plan early wins in order to create and keep up the momentum in the change process and build or enhance your personal credibility as a transformational leader.

  • Which steps do you find the most challenging?
  • Where can you get easily blindsided by for example being overly confident about your capabilities and knowledge of your organisation?
  • Where can you get repetitively stuck?
  • How can you make sure you get better prepared for that particular step?

Sources: The first 90 days – Proven strategies for getting up to speed faster and smarter by Michael D. Watkins

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