Monday, July 16, 2007

Recipe for Successful Change

There are many formulas for leading successful change. If you are in the change agent role just make sure you pick which formula you will use thoughtfully, and then use it consistently. Nothing will increase ambiguity in a change effort like a methodology that does not seem well thought out or anchored.

Like I said, there are many formulas, but there is one that I find especially effective. Like most things that work well, it is simple.

Create a sense of urgency: Without an over riding reason to go through the effort and pain that significant change requires, most organizations will never get there despite their best intentions. Without urgency, it is too easy to delay and focus on putting out the fires that pop up every day, or to compromise inappropriately when hard choices must be made. Good leaders know how to recognize, create, and use crises in order to accomplish significant positive change.

Remove barriers to success: Many of these barriers will be in the minds of the organization, but a few may be in the seats. You have to know how to identify the sources of low performance and then be willing to go after them. Your number one job as the leader is to remove obstacles to the success of others. Make sure they have the tools, training, and support they need – help THEM succeed.. That’s your job!

Recruit champions: It is important that you have organizational leadership as part of the group of champions. They, after all, control the resources you need. But you will need other champions as well, people who are influencers but not in the executive suite. Do not be seduced by charismatic leaders who have energy and appeal, but lack knowledge, credibility, or constituency. Finally, be sure to recruit new champions along the way as the initiative continues, especially if it is a long-running effort. Doing so will bring new ideas, new energy, and help buffer against natural attrition.

Build internal momentum: Start by building coalitions of people at all levels of the organization and from a cross section of stakeholders. Give them the freedom to operate outside of normal systems and channels, and give them a clear plan that has already been endorsed by executive management. Then, go grab some low hanging fruit as a way of getting started. These short term wins are important to building momentum and energy, and demonstrating credibility.

Prove that change works: Here’s that “metrics” word again. You will need them to establish baselines and to track and demonstrate the improvements the change effort is delivering. Remember, data is king. Use it to communicate results, identify opportunities, and manage priorities. Additionally, think about the sequencing of initiatives and stagger them so that a series of smaller projects finish while you are working on bigger projects that take more time. Those smaller successes help sustain momentum and credibility, and keep people engaged who might otherwise be sitting on the sideline.

Continue experimenting: Don’t be surprised when something goes wrong, it’s guaranteed to happen. Big change projects are complicated and it is unrealistic to expect all to go perfectly. Do not become disillusioned when it gets messy. Each problem represents learning and opportunity. Treat them that way and you will serve the process and your team well.

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