You may be familiar with John Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School, and the founder of Kotter International, a management consulting firm based in Seattle and Boston. He is a thought leader in business, leadership, and change.
He is known for speaking passionately about the difference between “managing” change and “leading” change.
“Management makes a system work,” Kotter explains. “It helps you do what you know how to do. Leadership builds systems or transforms old ones.”
Kotter is also well known for his 8-step process for leading change. Here is a graphic depiction:
“In a change process of any kind you must win over the hearts of people and the minds of people,” Kotter is famous for saying. “The most effective change efforts are able to get people to not only think differently, but also feel differently about the initiative.”
The point has been made, in prior posts, that “change” is not always perceived as being good, and instead tends to promote fear, uncertainty, doubt; and even resentment!
Consider that, in organizations of all types people tend to look with skepticism at new policies and procedures, and look with deep concern at new compensation plans or updated benefits programs. Similarly, in their daily quest for new customers, sales people constantly struggle to overcome buyers’ comfort with the status-quo; and people at all levels regularly cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!
Yet without change comes stagnation… and potentially worse things too. Current-day examples include Polaroid in instant photography, Blockbuster in video, Xerox in copiers, or the Yellow Pages! Each of these household name enterprises experienced significant declines, or worse, as competitors introduced new and better alternatives.
The cassette tape replaced the eight-track, but was then outdone by the compact disc, which was undercut by MP3 players… and the list can go on.
A Selling Mission… If we’re to learn from these examples, then we must accept the fact that change — either in the form of innovation, continuous improvement or both — is a critical component of growth and ongoing success. Without innovation and change we run the risk of losing our competitive position or potential obsolescence.
“Whatever made you successful in the past won’t in the future,” said the late Hewlett Packard CEO Lew Platt.
But if people tend to resist change as previously noted, how might managers or business owners best go about getting the team to accept it — to buy in? How can we help people more readily embrace improvement programs, try new protocols, accept new pricing models or generally believe in the up-side of change?
Simply stated, we must sell it.
Just like the sales and marketing experts who create the “new and improved” ad copy, slogans and selling presentations, we must sell the concept of change to our staff members before trying to present or roll-out new policies, procedures, campaigns, programs or plans.
And just like any sales mission, this will require forethought and planning.
We might start by identifying how the team will benefit from a proposed change. What’s in it for them? What are the consequences of not changing? What will it cost? What opportunities might we lose?
What’s the competition doing?
The next step is to determine how to properly position a proposed change. Since we know there is a tendency toward defensiveness, it’s important to make people understand that they are not the problem. In other words, a change in policy or approach need not mean that the team has been doing things the wrong way. Rather, it means the world is changing and we must change too, lest we fall behind.
Finally, once the presentation is made and the new whatever is launched, there must be follow-up reinforcement and assessment. Has everything worked as we’d hoped? Should we modify the new plan? Are there unforeseen consequences? While we don’t want to send a message indicating we’re not resolved to the new program or approach, it is also a good idea to let everyone know we’re fair and open-minded — that at the end of the day we’re all on the same side.
Change may be unsettling, but without it our futures are at risk; and there are clearly ways to minimize the negative effects. It will require effort, planning and, like any selling mission, persistence, as behaviors and attitudes are not easily influenced.
Margaret Thatcher may have summed it up best when saying, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it!”
Rapid acceleration in the pace of change has taken place within the business world over the past ten years. This fact has also accelerated the need for organizational agility, in both thought and behavior.
Agility and change are inextricably linked. The goal in most change efforts is not only a change in attitude, but behavioral change.
But of course change is not always perceived as being good. In fact, people at all levels tend to react with fear, uncertainty, and doubt (the “FUD” factor) when new ideas, processes, policies or procedures are introduced; and many cringe at the mere suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs !
Yet without change comes stagnation and potential loss.
The first step in any change effort, and in maintaining organizational agility, is to help people develop the right mental attitude and understand that timely change is a constant part of long-term success — this readiness for change will require:
Making continuous improvement a permanent part of the organization’s culture…
Getting people at all levels to change the way they think, talk, work, and act, and fostering a culture of open-mindedness and amnesty.
Establishing new perspectives on work, work processes and value-added work.
Effectively using various statistical tools to identify, analyze, understand and communicate variation.
Enlisting input from of people operating the work processes.
Quantifying how continuous improvement benefits all stakeholders.
Improving leadership and coaching skills that lead to increased employee capability and engagement.
Continuing to analyze the concept that “knowledge” is one of the most powerful change agents, today’s focus is on what is arguably the most important source of that knowledge — your own value stream, which includes your organization’s work as well as the work of others.
What is going on in technology? What methods are others trying out? How is it working for them? How could it work for you?
In most organizations, there is a knowledge barrier that holds the waste in place: the people who know the work best are seldom in a position to know the big picture so when they see waste, they
often assume there must be a reason for it. And if they know of better ways of doing something, they often lack the influence to make any significant changes. Similarly, those with the broader perspective and the influence do not really understand how the work as it is done today well enough to arrive at the ‘Eureka!’ moment.
One of the fundamentals of the Lean approach is that you must “go to the work.” Don’t just talk about the results or listen to people talk about the work — go to the work (a.k.a. Gemba).
Look at the work, and learn from the people who do it every day. Without this knowledge, little can be substantially improved, and effective “change” will be difficult or impossible to implement.
Change is a critical component of growth and ongoing success, yet two-thirds of all change initiatives fail.
In fact, change is not always perceived as being good. In organizations of all types, people tend to look with skepticism at innovations and new methods, processes, policies and procedures; and people at all levels cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!
Yet without change comes stagnation and risk of obsolescence and loss, a-la Kodak, Polaroid, Blockbuster, and so many other once-robust organizations that experienced significant declines in market share (or worse) and profits as competitors introduced new and improved, lower-cost alternatives.
Long-term, the goal is not only a change in attitude, but behavioral change. The first step is to help people develop the right mental attitude and understand that change is a constant part of long-term success — to help them develop a readiness for change.
One way to achieve these objectives is to involve people at all levels in ongoing organizational change by making continuous improvement a permanent part of your corporate culture… by using the fundamental principles of continuous improvement and workforce engagement in a way that gets people at all levels to change the way they think, talk, work, and act… by educating and empowering people to improve both the work and the workplace – their work and their workplace!
People tend to become engaged when they feel productive… when they feel like they are achieving success and that they are an important part of the organization’s success; when they feel that they have a voice in creating a better, more productive workplace as well as a better future.
Make this type of measured pursuit a part your culture and the results can be astounding!
Several past posts have referenced the fact that Continuous Improvement requires change, which can be difficult for many people. Consider that most of us react to change with a combination of fear,
uncertainty and doubt – the “FUD” factor!
Many of us also experience emotions similar to those associated with grief, which include denial, anger, and depression. To help people balance these normal emotional reactions and to avoid the frequently-associated drops in performance and morale, leaders can provide more objective and logical alternatives.
Here’s a simple mnemonic that outlines some best practices for leading change:
Logical alternatives to fear or speculation can help the team focus on the right things, such as their goals and daily tasks. Help people deal with rumors and emotional reactions to change by providing the right perspective; otherwise they might make-up their own version of reality. Create short-term goals (and wins!) for added focus.
Exemplify the right attitude and behavior. Avoid gossip and put random speculation in perspective. Leading by example is a standard best practice, especially during transitional times. Demonstrate a composed and logical reaction to change. As we all know but often forget, change is necessary for long-term success.
Acknowledgement is the first step toward acceptance. Encourage people by explaining that change may be hard to understand at first, but it is a necessary part of long-term success; help them acknowledge that the marketplace demands change, and discuss the desirable outcomes of innovation – one of our core values!
Direct people on what needs to be done. Help them to maintain normal levels of productivity, safety, quality and morale, and to continue business-as-usual; to continue meeting the requirements of our standard policies, procedures and work processes, and living-up to team, company and customer expectations.
Education and frequent communication are musts during transitional times; provide knowledge or coaching with respect to reality – i.e., why change is necessary; that it is not punitive or personal, and that it is not acceptable to slack-off during the transition – note that people who do so often regret it afterward.
Reinforcement is a necessary ingredient to acceptance, and people will require regular doses of it; remind them of past changes that have turned-out to be good after all, despite initial fears or concerns; reinforce the logical alternatives to fear or speculation (above), as well as the value of change in general.
Among the various challenges to continuous improvement a resistance to change tops many lists. Several posts have focused on the importance of change, and many have focused on the reality that “change” is the one constant component of continuous improvement and sustained success, despite the fact that people tend to resist it and react negatively toward it.
While our most recent change-related post shared some thoughts on leadership’s role, here are a few well-aligned comments from recent discussions about change and how and why it is a vital component of continuous improvement:
“A significant component of an improvement strategy is the company’s commitment to culture change. This infers that the strategy development process begins with a realistic assessment and review of the company’s culture… the assessment and review of the company’s culture must be fact based and not what the company’s leaders would like to say their culture is.”
“The hardest part of a business transformation is changing the organizational culture… the mindset and instincts of the people in the company. Organizational culture is like an iceberg, with most of its weight and bulk below the surface.”
“Leaders often create new programs or policies without attempting to change the underlying beliefs that guide individual choices. Employees and supervisors who don’t believe in the change will at best not support it, and at worst undermine it.”
Continuing on the theme of “managing change,” it is important to recognize that change does not “just happen.” Instead it takes place when leaders at all levels see opportunities and get others to share their passion about what can be accomplished.
Strong leaders provide the initial and ongoing energy for change. Without strong leadership, most change efforts will fail. Making speeches or presentations, declaring a new mission or vision and handing out short-term rewards alone will not cut it; management must advocate, lead and support change.
People will only follow leaders if they trust them, if they see the need for change, if they believe change will benefit “all” parties, and if they are involved in creating the change.
In addition to strong leadership, sustained change is brought about by a combination of human relations systems, beliefs, values and cultural practices. They are the true catalysts to sustained change and improvement.
Thinking that people will make profound changes in their thinking and behavior after just a one-time training class or multi-day workshop is not realistic.
Leaders must get personally involved in sponsoring, leading and implementing change.
We all know that effective leadership and continuous improvement involve driving change. Continuing this theme from our previous post, here are a few additional thoughts on how to manage change within your workplace:
Successful change cannot be mandated or forced
Help people recognize that we must change not to fight the current way, but for a better way
Successful change starts from within; we must help others to trust that the change will benefit the company and will benefit the workforce over the long-term
An honest behavioral self-analysis is a good start, but not always easy to accomplish; help people assess their own behavior with respect to change and to evaluate whether or not it is leading them toward their desired career path
Some people will appear that they’re buying in, but behave otherwise…
Help people recognize that it’s easier to change when you can, rather than when you have to
Several previous posts have focused on the importance of change, and on the fact that effective leadership is about driving change. The ability to anticipate, lead and manage change is a critical indicator of organizational success and is a necessary component of continuous improvement.
But, as we’ve also noted, people tend to resist change. It is uncomfortable, and tends to bring about varying degrees of fear, uncertainty and doubt – or, as noted in a recent post, a range of challenging emotions.
A heightened awareness of the “normal” reactions to change can help leaders more easily manage change and lead people toward acceptance in less time. For example, when a major change is initiated it is common for members of the workforce think or wonder:
The way we’ve always done it is fine… why do we need to change?
Why wasn’t I consulted?
Why do I need to change my way of doing things?
What have I done wrong? I’ve done nothing wrong!
How will this affect me…?
They don’t know what they’re doing!
This will never work…
What are they trying to achieve?
Will I be able to adapt/fit in?
Recognizing that the above-listed questions are more the rule rather than the exception, leaders and managers might be able to address the true concerns of their workforce and implement change and improvement initiatives more efficiently.
We will share additional thoughts on leading and managing change in our next post… in the meantime, maybe you would like to share some success stories about how your organization has been able to effectively present and manage change?