leading change (why most transformation fails)

change around corner

 

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“Every organization must be prepared to abandon everything it does to survive in the future.”

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Peter Drucker

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“I am jealous of anyone who can make other people care so much.”

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David Levithan

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“The scariest thing about the world is knowing it goes on when you’re not there.”

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Eric Kahn Gale

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“… do you mean that I am to regain the confidence of my people, ambassador, or that they are to regain my confidence? “

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Tsar Nicholas in March 1917

<less than two weeks before forced to abdicate the throne of Russia>

—–

 

 

 

Well.

 

 

While this is about organizational change <and why most transformations do not work> mostly this is about change, people and leaders <and leadership>.

 

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Note:

I have written about Change in a 4 part series in 2010 – links are at bottom of this article – and a portion of this appeared in this post:

http://brucemctague.com/prepared-to-abandon-everything-it-does-to-survive

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letting go claw marks

Ok.

 

 

 

Suffice it to say that change is tough & tricky mostly because we are just not comfortable abandoning shit <letting go of stuff>.

 

In fact.

 

We suck at abandoning shit.

 

 

Oh.

 

This ‘sucking’ comment applies not only to people in general … but leaders too.

 

 

And, we suck despite the fact one of the most common comments in the business environment is … “This isn’t working. We need to change it.”

 

 

I would suggest this comment is indicative of the idea that people are never <rarely> satisfied with what is and what surrounds us.

 

It is quite possible this not only defines us as a species but also as a business organization.
We are in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction.

 

 

We are constantly thinking about how to change shit, improve shit and fix shit.

 

That’s what we do.
It doesn’t matter whether it is at home, in businesses or in Life.

 

 

It was in 1999 Peter Drucker said “we do not hear much anymore about overcoming resistance to change. “

 

 

Everybody has now accepted by now that change is unavoidable. But please note I said ‘unavoidable’ and this doesn’t necessarily mean ‘good’ or even ‘desirable.’

 

 

In fact it kind of implies that change is like death & taxes <things that should be postponed as long as possible and no change would be vastly preferable>.

 

 

 

Regardless.

 

 

We may not like it … but we know change is the norm.

 

 

That said … here is where I believe we people, and businesses, get change really wrong.

 

 

We try and hold on to something.

50 something hold on let go

Mostly the ‘somethings’ we believe is the good stuff.

 

 

Now.

 

These ‘somethings’ may truly be good stuff. But more often the ‘current good’ looks ‘not as good’ in a new changed environment.

 

 

And what may be worse?

 

 

More often than not we end up not only holding on to something that is worthless in the here & now <but feels good to hold on to> and will most likely slow us down during the change <because we kept on holding on to it and trying to figure out how to actually keep it ‘good’> but the shit we are holding on to is also most likely screwing up the new ‘changed’ environment in some form or fashion.

 

 

Yup.

 

Once again.

 

Change is tough & tricky because we are just not comfortable abandoning shit.

 

 

And that is where leaders earn their keep in leading change … getting people to let go of their death grip of things that are often simply within reach <which they may confuse with things they think are good>.

 

 

And while I will most likely confuse leading change & managing change as I weave my way thru my thoughts <although I will clarify later> I will begin by suggesting leading change begins with a couple of thoughts:

 

 

 

hold on let go change

 Everyone in your team or organization will feel differently about change <or let’s say some typical groupings will emerge on how they think about it>.

 

 

For some the emotion is excitement enjoying the adrenaline rush associated with change. They seek to change large and small things in their personal lives so in business it is a natural action.

 

Their enemy is monotony.

 

 

For some the emotion associated with the word change is anxiety and fear.

 

Losing control is not something they embrace and any type of change, regardless of the size, will send them into a tizzy <and are typically vocal about it>.

 

They enjoy knowing what will happen, when it will happen, and to what degree it will happen <e.g., what is the plan>.

 

 

uncertainty is a bitch

Everyone will associate ‘uncertainty’ with change.

 

 

Regardless of the variety within an organization “change happens.”

It is inevitable.

 

But.

 

The one thing I can guarantee is that your desired change, no matter how well articulated, will increase a sense of uncertainty.
Why?

 

 

Well.

 

 

 

First.

 

 

As the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle says, “There will always be an element of uncertainty in the universe.” People assume Life is uncertain just as a base.

 

 

 

Second.

 

 

You are compounding this general overall Life sense of uncertainty with an additional actual ‘forced change’ or change you have outlined as needed.

 

This increases the sense of uncertainty.

 

 

Next.

 

 

 

 

Change is led and managed <and a leader needs to do both>

 

 

All leaders know it is better to manage change than react to change.

 
There are several dynamics to this.

 

 

First.

 

In managing change everyone needs to remember that Change Agents, or the people who initiate change, can be some of the most well-liked … uhm … or deeply-despised people in any organization, office, or even friends in Life.

 

Change is associated with expectations, a certain amount of energy, well articulated thinking and a shitload of foresight & flexibility and conviction. Suffice it to say … I can almost guarantee if you are a change agent, and you are successful at it, you are both loved and hated.

 

 

 

Second.

 

 

Balancing people when their world begins to tilt.

 

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“People will try to hold on when their world starts to tilt, they will grab onto whatever is in reach.”

The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn

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It is slightly surprising but most leaders struggle with the balance because they … well … focus on the wrong things.

 

 

Business book after business book and business school after business school pounds into our heads that efficiency is about consistent delivery and developing best practices and highly successful protocols & processes. All of that suggests “maintain.”

 

In other words … build and don’t abandon.

 

 

We look around us and see many system items <and processes> as foundational items and not as potential anchors.

 

And this is what potential leaders get pounded into their heads.

 

 

behavior change time

 

Therefore.

 

They seek to see what to hold on to before they begin thinking about what needs to be let go <to get to where they want to go>.

 

 

My main point, beyond the fact leading change is difficult, is that most people <including leaders> just look at change incorrectly.

 

 

Which makes the few good leaders good. Because that is what great leaders KNOW how to do.

 

 

Know when to abandon.
Know when to hold on.

 

 

 

Look.

 

All change is confusing to people. I am not suggesting it isn’t welcome or desired … just that even when desired it can be confusing.

 

 

Change creates a mix of emotions where desire never <rarely> matches reality which all means that organizational change can be confusing for people and, at minimum, certainly uncertain.

 

 

That said.

 

 

 

Third.

 

 

The whole leading & managing thing and balance.

 

 

“The leader must aim high, see big, judge widely, thus setting himself apart from the ordinary people who debate in narrow confines.”

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Charles de Gaulle

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change speed market

 

 

 

A leader’s challenge is complex … how to not only stay grounded in an unstable world & business environment and drive significantly better results for themselves, their teams and their organizations but also how to guide, in a balanced way, the organization and key people thru change.

 

 

Leading takes resiliency, some competency and a shitload of character because a leader must contend with cynical workforces, personal burnout, economic impermanence, and constant volatility.

 

 

Permit me to say several things to follow that.

 

 

 

Permit me to say pointing fingers <a> never helps <b> is typically a symptom of other issues, and <c> is action & energy that could be used elsewhere.

 

 

 

Permit me to say that people are consistent in that if it becomes too difficult to climb the change ladder people just quit <or bitch that it’s too hard or that isn’t is not the right thing to do>.

 

 

 

Permit me to say that the leaders who simply say ‘I let them figure out how to do it and get out of their way’ will fail … just as the leaders who say ‘if you don’t show them how to do it it will not be done’ will fail.

 

 

 

Permit me to say it is balance. And luckily for me I am not just making this up.
There are a shitload of leadership theories.

The chart to the right highlights the most well-known theories.leadership styles theories

 

 

 

 

And while leadership has always been a slippery concept <and is getting slipperier by the day> the TopModels guys remind us that leading is simple … and complex.
It is about managing people wisely although realizing that while we want to manage as if the people we manage eventually cohort … they are individuals and leaders need to adapt from person to person <boy … that sounds tiring doesn’t it>.

 

 

They highlight the Hersey-Blanchard Model as an excellent tool to manage and direct people based on situational factors.

 

The Hersey-Blanchard model presents the idea that the most important thing is to adapt one’s style of leadership to the situation at hand, thus term ‘situational leadership’. It distinguishes between: instructing, coaching, supporting and delegating.

 

And it is a nice leadership thought in that it includes the concept of … “Lead your employees in such a way that you yourself become superfluous. And lead your employees to be successful, so that one day they will be in a leadership position themselves”.

 

 

 

The matrix is a tool designed for leaders and reads from right to left starting lead hersey blanchardwith D1 <situation 1: Directing> to D4 <situation 4: Delegating>.

 

 

The process follows each situation describing the state of direct reports <change agents>:

 

 

 

 

 

 

–                                  Directing:

 

 

Is concerned with instructing highly committed people who have yet to develop the necessary set of skills to execute tasks. At this stage, direct reports are attributed with high commitment and low competence.
–                                     Coaching:

 

 

Despite rising competence, the levels of commitment have fallen – leaders are required to increase their supportive behavior by asking challenging questions and allowing direct reports to solve problems.

 

 

 

–                                       Supporting:

 

 

Employees in this stage have high levels of competence and varying commitment levels – they may resign – and leaders have to increase their supportive behavior; focusing less on directing reports.

 

 

 

–                                         Delegating:

 

 

Employees are highly competent and in control of their own projects. These employees can lead their own teams and develop them in a similar fashion.

 

 

<I got most of this from the TopModels Decisions books>

 

 

Ok.

 

 

 

The reservation I have about this model is that it is very linear and fails to describe fall back strategies but in general it makes the point that change leadership is partially leading & partially managing.

 

 

 

Next.

 

 

 

Fourth.

 

 

Learning what to manage and what not to manage … and pacing.

 

 

Oddly … I may suggest that managing, not managing & pacing can be a reflection of a leader’s humility. Maybe better said … the best leaders tend to be unemotional or being emotionally unattached to the decision … or have a true sense of non-personal interest.

lead change vision

 

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“Management is about arranging and telling.

Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.”

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Tom Peters

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As I have already outlined the most general thought is that the change process goes through a series of phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time.

Well.

 

Certainly more time than anyone really wants <or tends to believe it will take>.

 

But it is good to remember that skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and rarely creates the true desired result. In addition … critical mistakes in any of the phase can have a devastating impact, slowing momentum and negating hard-won gains so ‘too hasty’ can create some bad mistakes.

 

 

And … to be clear … even very capable people often make at least one big error.

 

 

Sure.

 

There is always a sense of urgency to show that ‘recommended change’ is ‘good change’ … and show proof … but this is about managing urgency … or what I call “make haste slowly.”

 

 

Getting change started requires the aggressive cooperation of many individuals. Without motivation, people won’t help, and the effort goes nowhere. Gaining cooperation takes time. And it doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. And it often needs to be regained.

 

 

Sometimes leaders underestimate how hard it can be to drive people out of their comfort zones.

 

 

Sometimes they grossly overestimate how successful they have already been in increasing urgency.

 

 

Sometimes they lack patience … ‘enough with the talk & planning and let’s get on with it.’

 

 

 

And there is an odd relationship with risk.

 

What do I mean?

 

 

Well.

 

 

Management’s mandate is to minimize risk and to keep the current system operating. Change, by definition, requires creating a new system, which in turn always demands some risk.

 

 

Transformations often begin, and begin well, when an organization has a good leader who sees the need for a major change <and instigating some risk>.

 

Therefore … not only is change a huge challenge … it also embraces some risk.

 

1940s change comfort zone

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“Corporations are mandated, in effect, to ‘grow or die,’ a rule also called ‘the growth imperative.’ “

Michele Simon

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There is also an odd relationship with success.

 

 

Bad business results are both a blessing and a curse in the first phase. On the positive side, losing money does catch people’s attention. But it also gives less maneuvering room.

 

On the other hand.

 

With good business results, the opposite is true … convincing people of the need for change is much harder and yet you have more resources to help make changes.

 

 

All said.

 

Successful change involves change management and change leadership.

 

 

To be clear.

 

Management gurus unequivocally state that there is a large distinction to be made between change management and change leadership <I am not sure I see as clear a distinction>.

 

 

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Change Management refers to keeping change under control by managing change as it comes to minimize distractions or obstructions.

It doesn’t refer to creating or anticipating the need for change.

Change Management involves thoughtful planning and sensitive implementation, but most importantly, the consultation and involvement of those who will be impacted by the change.

Change Leadership on the other hand concerns those driving forces and visions that fuel the transformation. It is the engine that makes the process go faster, smarter and more efficiently.

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disrupt change world

 

 

 

Look.

 

 

 

Managing or leading … change is tricky.

 

 

Mostly because if you are a leader in the midst of a ‘change scenario’ you probably have a to-do list that is so long sleeping is nowhere on it. You find yourself staring at the mid level manager who comes through the door who softly says “I am not sure the people are happy with all this change” and you have to stop yourself at the last minute from saying “no shit Sherlock.”

 

 

Organizational change, even if you are great at delegating, means you are being bombarded from a zillion directions with real issues and real non-issues none of which are actually on your own to-do list <which are the things that kind of insure the organization actually make it through the change transition>.

 

 

You have put the plan in action and change is happening.

 

 

And even with a tight plan … change is typically organic where the plan is set and you have strategically <and hopefully … smartly> planted some seeds but the growth is not systematic nor even always predictable. To manage this you need some flexibility to work in this environment and be aware of the progress and ready to ride surges in change transition. You may not be able to control and report progress as easily as with systematic change, but with this organic change, when it starts happening, it can happen quickly.

 

 

Now.

 

If you can figure out how to keep your head in the game and stay involved WITHIN the change … you will be surprised how often that involvement that you, the leader <a change agent>, can affect the speed and the outcome. It may sound odd but true change agents seem to draw critical change pieces like a magnet <I have seen it time and time again> so that means you gotta be there to attract the pieces.

 

 

 

Change in business is hard. REALLY hard.
There is never a time that we don’t need leaders … and good leaders … because business, and Life, is strewn with a litany of familiar problems.

 

 

Leadership is needed to fix these familiar problems, and things in general, as well as to manage the change.

 

 

We need leaders who know their ‘north star’ with regard to a moral compass and are prepared to stay the course despite challenges and disappointments.

 

 

Being a leader is not easy.

 

 

As Teddy Roosevelt said:

 

“… in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood … who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions … knows in the end the triumph of high achievement that can come only by daring greatly.”
Believe me when I say this … no individual achievement can equal the pleasure of leading a group of people into achieve a worthy purpose <and business objective>.enlightened conflict think

 

 

That’s the prize to a leader.

 

 

Leading change is one of the most challenging … and most rewarding activities a leader can participate in.

 

Frankly.

 

Most organizational changes fail.

 

 

And that is, most likely, because the leader failed … failed to balance leading & managing.

 

 

The comforting news to leaders?

 

 

If you fail you are in good company.

Most change fails.

 

 

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enlightened conflict sand less

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Enlightened Conflict Change Series:

Part 1: http://brucemctague.com/change

Part 2: http://brucemctague.com/change-part-2-managing-change

Part 3: http://brucemctague.com/change-part-3-the-plan-falls-apart

Part 4: http://brucemctague.com/change-part-4-broken-pieces

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Written by Bruce