Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Creating Positive Change

Change - one of the most feared words in some organizations and the defining ethos of others. As we lead, it's also one of the prerequisite skill sets: the ability to navigate change successfully. That being said, I find the following quote from Lyle Schaller particularly insightful.
"Anyone seriously interested in planning social change would be well advised to recognize two facts of life. First, despite the claims of any, relatively little is known about change. Second, much of what is known will not work."
Now that we have that disclaimer out of the way, let's look at some keys to bringing about successful change in an organization.
  • Be willing to change yourself.
If we are going to lead change, we must first model the adaptability required for change. There are some leaders who resist change in their own lives, yet expect others to be enthusiastic about it. Here's the how-to on personal change.
  1. Admit the need to change.
  2. Assume responsibility for that change.
  3. Evaluate - why am I the way I am?
  4. What can I do about it? Set personal goals. Find a mentor.
  5. Start today.
  6. Celebrate when you get there.
If you are comfortable with change, your people will be much more likely to follow.
  • Lead for the benefit of the people.
People know when they matter and when they don't. In order to be a change agent that lasts, you must first win the hearts of your people. See The Levels of Leadership and remember, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." If people don't believe that you have their best interests at heart, they will not follow and will resist change.

John Maxwell uses an illustration where coins represent influence. When you are brought in to your new position you are given a certain amount of coins, which represent influence. When you make a good decision, an people recognize it, they give you more coins. When you blow it, you give some back. The wise leader recognizes whether they have enough coin to attempt a specific change. The more coin they have collected, the greater risk they can take. But be careful, when you run out of coin it's time to call U-haul.
  • Create an environment where change is normal.
Begin small, but make positive changes. It's generally best, at least at first, to add rather than subtract. Give more options. This can demonstrate why the change you propose is better than its predecessor. Get some wins under your belt. As seen in the example above, this allows you to move to more substantive changes that will move your organization forward. You will find that as the organization moves forward, change becomes easier. It's much easier to steer a ship when it is moving; it's impossible when it's standing still. John Maxwell gives some very helpful tips for creating a climate for change in his book Developing The Leader Within You.
  1. The leader must develop a trust with people.
  2. The leader must make personal changes before asking others to change.
  3. Good leaders understand the history of the organization.
  4. Place influencers in leadership positions.
  5. Check the "change in your pocket."
  6. Good leadsers solicit the support of influencers before the change is made public.
  7. Develop a meeting agenda that will assist change.
  8. Encourage the influencers to influence others informally.
  9. Show the people how the change will benefit them.
  10. Give the people ownership of the change. 
  • Be a vision caster.
People want to know why a change is taking place. They want to be convinced that this is a good thing and will benefit them and the organization before they commit. A skilled vision caster will paint a picture of a preferable future. Remember the Pareto Principle (20/80). Invest your time in influencing the 20% of your people who can help you influence the rest. If your top 20% aren't with you, wait, or be prepared for a long battle and likely failure.

So share your vision. Why is this a good idea? Remember that the goal is to move the organization forward and to improve the lives of your people. As Max Depree said, "In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are."
  • Make incremental changes when necessary.
Sometimes major changes are necessary; and sometimes major changes in direction will result in many people being thrown overboard. The more established the organization, generally speaking, the more gradula th changes need to be made. In a quote from the church world, Pastor Ron Stewart says that "Every church will turn 180 degrees in 10 degree increments."
  • Celebrate the victories.
Find creative ways to have a party when a change has been successful. This will help to create an environment where change is seen in a more favorable light and will likely make the next one easier. Make heroes of the successful change agents in your organization if that is a value you want duplicated. Remember that "what gets rewarded gets done."

Quotes on change:
  • "The leaders in any organization must be the environmental change agents." - John Maxwell
  • "Great change dominates the world, and unless we move with change we will become its victims." - Robert F. Kennedy
  • "If you want to make enemies, try to change something." - Woodrow Wilson  
  • "The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinions." - James Russell Lowell
  • "If your horse is dead, for goodness sake - dismount." - Eddy Ketchursid
  • "It's the most unhappy people who most fear change." - Mignon Mclaughlin
Related Articles:
The Power of Encouragement
Turning the Corner - How to Regain Momentum
The Power of Words
Key Leadership Qualities - Communication
Are You Teachable?
Repacking the baggage of our lives

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