Make Change Stick
By Gary Bradt
easy to talk about change but actually making change happen is not.
How many times have we seen politicians from mayor to President run
on a platform of change only to be stymied by the forces of the
status quo once in office? In organizations, new leaders promising
change arrive with great fanfare and panache. Speeches are made and
initiatives begun, only to inevitably fade into impotent obscurity
when those leaders move on and the status quo returns. At least
until the next leader arrives touting the New Big Idea, when the
truth, driving sustainable change requires persistence, skill and
hard work. Armed with a strategy and an understanding of what it
takes to make change stick, you can be successful. Below are five
things you need to know and do to lead sustainable change.
Address resistance before it occurs. It’s predictable:
The people asking you to lead them through change will be the very
ones who will fight and resist you every step of the way, so
challenge them before you start. Ask them to predict where the
strongest pockets of resistance will most likely lie, and what
they’ll do to help you overcome those challenges. Let them know
you’ll likely need to make unpopular decisions, whether it’s letting
people go or shutting down a plant, or ending a legacy product or
service. Gauge their reactions, and ask how they’ll specifically
support you when resistance hits. If you don’t like or don’t trust
the answers you hear, reconsider accepting the position, or at least
go into it with your eyes wide open, knowing better the challenges
that lie ahead.
Leaders don’t change organizations, people do. Your job isn’t to
personally change anything, but rather to inspire those who
can: the receptionist who greets your customers; the sales support
staff who handles their complaints; the engineer who designs the
products, and the salespeople who interact with the customers who
use them; they are the true agents of change. It’s your job
to show them why they should. You do this by continually sharing and
reinforcing an uplifting message and vision of a future that’s worth
waiting for, and worth fighting for. People will make ongoing
sacrifices to effect sustainable change; if they can see the
reward is worth the effort. It’s your primary job to make that
connection for them.
Stay close to your friends. Stay closer to your enemies.
Abraham Lincoln populated his cabinet with political enemies. He
knew that it was easier to influence his detractors from close range
than to deal with their potshots from afar. Similarly, when Franklin
D. Roosevelt was preparing the United States for war, he invited the
input and participation of business leaders who loathed him and
despised his policies. He knew that without their sacrifice and
support, America could never produce the weapons and means necessary
to defeat her enemies. Therefore, invite everyone to participate in
the change process. Failing this, resistance generated by your
strongest detractors will gradually erode any positive effects you
may otherwise achieve.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The old saying “Better
the devil you know than the devil you don’t” is both cogent and
wise. Even if circumstances are less than ideal, many people are
slow to change for fear of the unknown. Just like the soreness that
a first trip back to the gym will predictably produce, so too will
change produce some doubts and discomfort at first. Therefore it’s
important to normalize these feelings. Predicting they will occur
will help people interpret them as a sign of progress when they do.
Finally, reassure your followers that, just like muscles eventually
adapt and get stronger in response to increased loads, so too will
people gradually become stronger and more comfortable as they adapt
to the newness of change.
honest, especially with yourself. It’s easy to articulate
changes you’d like to see happen (personally losing ten pounds, say,
or gaining ten percent market share on the professional side) but
change comes at a price: it requires time, effort and often,
sacrifice. Many change efforts fail because the leaders were never
one hundred percent committed to them in the first place; or, if
they were, they did not get others fully on board (per our first
four points above). Therefore it’s vital that you truly believe in
and want the change you’re about to lead. It can’t just be something
that seems like a good idea, or worse, the latest trend everyone
else is embracing. Begin by taking a look in the mirror: if you
don’t passionately want to make this change happen, no one else will
Final Word: Leading sustainable change requires leaders who
care, followers who believe, and a commitment from both to
persevere; for if your cause is great, so too the rewards.
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