Want change? Define it and then drive it

Karen Natzel, BridgeTower Media Newswires

Whether you are driving change or scrambling to react to it, see it as a beacon of hope or specter of doom, for most of us, our world is in a constant state of flux. It doesn't have to be daunting. Instead, consider it an invitation for growth and a necessary mindset for continuous improvement. Change is the antithesis to complacency.

Want change? If you find yourself frustrated, restless or simply desiring things to be different, then you've already started the change process. Now, prepare to put things in motion.

The Harvard Business Review's "Change Management" guidebook speaks of the need for "tipping point leadership." According to authors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, "The theory suggests that such a movement can be unleashed only by agents who make unforgettable and unarguable calls for change, who concentrate their resources on what really matters, who mobilize the commitment of the organization's key players, and who succeed in silencing the most vocal naysayers."

This requires us to get out of our habitual ways of thinking, believing and behaving; embracing the discomfort of the unfamiliar; and summoning the courage to do things differently. It requires listening and paying attention to the nuances so that we may influence and leverage the opportunities. It demands we get clear on what we want and what we can do to make a shift possible.

Define the change desired

What do you want to impact? What would you like to be different in a year? Six months? Three months? What would it look like if you re-engineered your company culture so that it was healthy, robust and high-performing? Defining the change redirects frustrations to solution-oriented thinking; it also makes it more tangible and thereby more achievable.

Inspire change

Part of leadership is shaping and holding a vision that inspires a team to action. What do you want your team to say "yes" to? Keep your eyes (and the eyes of your team) on the prize. To build confidence in the direction of your vision, you'll need to know what motivates individual team members. Help them see the value by understanding the "what" and the "why" as it relates to their world. When you motivate key influencers those people who are admired and respected in your organization and are capable of persuading others you're planting the seeds of change!

Get clarity

In addition to having a clear vision of where you are going, it's critical to provide your team with guidance on priorities and expectations. Navigating change is much easier with a clear road map on which to focus. Consider this: if members of your leadership team were independently interviewed, would they be aligned on priorities? Without alignment, you are likely wasting resources and churning discontent. Take the time to facilitate clear mutual understanding up front and gain early buy-in; you'll prevent numerous frustrating breakdowns.

Don't overcommit

We work at intense speeds, juggling various demands. I appreciate the temptation to extend ourselves to make things come together. In fact, there can be some "juice" in the full-court press experience. However, there are risks involved. Every new (good) idea is enticing, but if you pursue too much at once, you'll run the risk of burning out your team with initiative fatigue.

Limit what you say yes to. Take time to accurately assess the resources it will take to execute on the agreed-upon, established priorities. What compelling criteria and critical thinking do you need in place to say "yes" to a new idea? (If your organization suffers from this ailment, I suggest having the leadership team walk through my "New Initiative Checklist" before making any new commitments). When you stay focused and disciplined on your priorities you can gain traction and credibility.

Change the conversation

If the tone of conversations is fixated on problems and the past, you may be inadvertently reinforcing the status quo. Remember, as a leader, what you say reverberates throughout your organization. I'm not suggesting walking on eggshells or engaging in superficial conversations. On the contrary, I prefer you conduct candid, robust and respectful dialogue with your colleagues. Be willing to have the conversation that needs to be aired on a regular basis. Stand for the value of the change you've defined. Speak with good intent and clear messages (articulating what you want). Additionally, shift the conversation by avoiding absolutes words such as "always, never, no one." These words are often attached to resistance i.e., "Things will never change around here. He always shows up late to meetings. She never follows through." That language only stifles progress and lets people stay in their comfort zones of being "right."

Build a culture where people don't let obstacles on their path stop them. Instead, begin asking result-oriented questions such as, "What can you do to move this forward?" or "What action can I take to tackle this challenge and drive change?"

Embrace the new order

Organizations are a collection of people with ingrained habits of thinking and doing. Even an organization receptive to change requires un-training the old way. As a change agent, you may need to "bury the ghost of the past." When leaders embark on real change, it takes a while before the team believes it's true. They may hold onto perceptions from the old ways or personas. One way to do this is to publicly celebrate wins. For example, if you want more teamwork, start acknowledging it when it happens. Be specific in your praise and speak to the benefits it brings. This provides invaluable recognition to those driving the changes while reinforcing your expectations for a high-performing, collaborative team. As you identify the changes happening, you'll change the story and the reality.

Embracing change can feel vulnerable to everyone in the process. Yet, real vulnerability is the most powerful, trust-building, authentic space a leader can create for fostering meaningful change.


Karen Natzel is a business therapist who helps leaders create healthy, vibrant and high-performing organizations.

Published: Fri, Sep 09, 2016