I have made a career out of leading change. I enjoy the change process. It is time-consuming, always difficult, politically dangerous, and often frustrating. It takes long days, short nights, and meetings. Lots and Lots of meetings! Why doesn’t everybody love this?
What makes change worthwhile is when the change has worth. Change for change sake is a waste of time, energy, resources, and political capital. The problem is, people never know if the change you are trying to engage them in is change for change sake until you answer three important questions. If you can answer them to their satisfaction, you will be able to engage people in the change. If not, well, better luck next time!
Why Do We Need To Change?
Stephen Covey calls this “beginning with the end in mind.” Leaders must cast a vision. There is a proverb that says, “Without a vision, the people perish.” The same is true of a change initiative. If you cannot connect your change initiative to the Mission and Vision of your organization, assuming that the Mission and Vision itself is accepted, your initiative is doomed from the start. People will only endure pain, only if it is connected to a greater purpose. As Quint Studer, leader of the Studer Group consulting firm whose mission is all about changing institutional culture, says, “We must connect to the Why” in order to experience “meaningful, purposeful work.”
What’s In It For Me?
This is a question you must answer for every individual you need to participate in the change. I used to see this as selfish and annoying. I believed the greater good should override any self-interest. That is how I am wired. As a leader, however, I cannot usually rally enough people to enact significant change without addressing this question. Additionally, I have discovered by endeavoring to answer this question I achieve far greater results. This is why.
Answering this question requires meeting with the individuals, hearing their concerns, understanding their current situation and how they believe this change will affect them. Often you will start to hear major recurring themes among the people involved that will necessitate precursor change prior to the change you envision. Without this process, the change you plan might fail miserably. Addressing the issues of the individuals leads to a better outcome and also gains more engagement.
Will This Last?
There is nothing more disheartening to a team than to fully engage in a change and then have some new initiative pull away the focus, resources, and commitment to sustain the change. Answering this question is always important and applies to any change. Whether it is an individual person, a department, an entire hospital system or Fortune 500 Company that is engaging in change, people want to know that this is not the flavor of the month.
If you are not 100% sure of the change then consider using a “rapid cycle” change process with a small test of change that is much less resource intense than the complete change initiative. Make sure the participants understand that this is a test, or a pilot so that if you back out of the initiative, you will not dishearten them and lose them for future change initiatives. I do caution over-use of this process, especially in professional service industries. No matter your good intentions, this can often lead to a culture of change fatigue and a perception that the organization enacts change for change sake, and that leaders do not use evidence based thinking.
We live in an age where the only thing constant is change. As leaders, we need to assure our teams that the change we ask of them is ultimately for the long-term viability and stability of our organizations and the needs of the customers we serve. It cannot be about our pet projects, adding to our fiefdom, or impressing the C-Suite.
Finally, if you do not need to change, don’t!
Good luck finding that scenario!