Mention the word change and a collective groan is often heard in conference rooms and offices regardless of your location. Change is painful, we too often believe. Change will be uncomfortable and may create a scenario wherein you lose control. You may not like the end product; then you have to change it back. Change just might break your business, or a relationship, or you personally. Change is a six letter four letter word. Why?
We know change is necessary. We know changing is how we stay in business or stay in the relationship. Change is also required for an end to occur such as the end of a relationship, or the end of a business. No wonder hesitations and anxieties increase when you announce a change process.
I feel one more demonstrative is necessary here. Have you heard the rule which states an organization that fails to change will die? Yeah, me too. Simply, this analogy is wrong. An organization which is healthy, then declines to the point of death has done what? Yes! It has changed—likely unwillingly, but the organizational change occurred, from healthy to out of business. I am encouraging you to take back control of change and reduce the likelihood of a change death spiral. So then, how do we lead change?
There are many change management theories. John Kotter wrote Change Leadership wherein he presents steps to manage change. Agile organizations pride themselves in quick changes, flexibility to change quickly with markets or trends. Leadership theories have been developed using leadership change as a method to garner higher motivation of followers. Everywhere we turn there seems to be a newly coined change management phrase, or trend to manage change successfully. Lewin’s model of change was the theory or model I was most in tune with when dealing with change.
Lewin’s model suggests an organization needs to unfreeze, then make a change and wait to ensure the impact is desired, then refreeze. Can we plan for change using a model like Lewin’s when at our core as humans, changing is what we do each day we wake up? Just start the change. So, if we look at the Lewin model and change it around, how about working in an organization that stays in a position of unfrozen, meaning flexible and able to implement change at any time. Once a change is made, the organizational process involved then freezes to verify desired outcomes. If the change is effective, the organization leaves the change in place and then unfreezes the process again, ready for more input and output from all levels of associates.
Do you need to change staff positions? Start by placing an individual in a new role, freeze the staffing process to test, verify the fix or change it again if the first move doesn’t work. Once the fix appears satisfactory, you unfreeze the organization and are free to make the next change. But start by making a move.
In our business, we are testing associates in new roles, examining and working with new sales and marketing tactics, modifying logistics plans, streamlining yard operations via numerous changes, and also encouraging front-line associates to question business processes and to recommend different practices all simultaneously, with short pauses to ascertain effectiveness after each change. We have stopped the fear of making a mistake by admitting up front each change may be a mistake but letting all impacted know we can change back. Associates not prone to change anxiety were quick to the game when we first started this; associates with anxiety were slow to embrace this method, but now trust the process and appreciate the lower key method to change.
Here is what we have found in the last two years. Our three largest initiatives with solid outcomes started with small acts of unplanned work. Yes, the desired outcome was defined organizational change, but no strategic change plan was put in place. We started the changes via small acts or projects and allowed the processes to guide us, to guide the work. We followed this through, and now we enjoy the fruition of the changed processes, and along the way we were able to recognize strength in associates we did not know existed (promotions), weaknesses in areas we did not expect (area for new change) and had fun at changing our business (reduced change anxiety). I consider this a significant victory and one we hope to repeat continuously.
I will end with this. Of course, there is no secret answer which fits every business scenario requiring change. Instances will require foresight, superior planning and judgment, and change management principles to be soundly administered. But, on a daily basis, I believe much less anxiety should be spent on change, and the processes we now define as change should be treated as simpler decisions and acts we each make and acts we empower our associates to make in good faith and for the common good of our organizations. Remove the change stigma, unfreeze and look for the positive—take the positive directions.
Best of luck and successful leadership.