Leading a change is one of the most important senior leader responsibilities.
Leading change can include adjusting the organization’s direction due to changes in the environment, looming problems ahead, new great opportunities, and more.
Regardless of the purpose for the effort, Leading Change expert John Kotter says that 75% of change efforts fail. Why?
Much has been written about this over the years. Kotter, for example, has his eight-step process for leading a change which I have used and taught to executives for years.
However, my experience has been that the first three steps are the most important and that they are really not “steps” – they occur more as a “swirl” as the steps interact with one another. For example:
- Having a Sense of Urgency is the first step and it starts with the initiator of the change. Someone has to have an insight about a problem or opportunity that others are missing. Once they have this insight, they share it with colleagues.
- Building a Guiding Coalition is the next step. This is where you gather people together who are well positioned in the organization to promote the change to others.
- Creating a Vision and Strategy to implement the change is next. In this step you create a positive vision for the organization’s future – once the change is implemented. Then you create a strategy to accomplish it.
This is all well and good, but consider some of these nuances and interactions:
- Leaders who take on a change need to start with a gut check. Look yourself in the mirror before you start and image how much effort this is going to take. Then multiply it by ten. If you are not willing to put in this effort, do not even start. Many change efforts fail simply due to fatigue.
- Make sure your Guiding Coalition also has a Sense of Urgency. “Sure, Rob, that sounds like a good idea” is NOT a Sense of Urgency! Your inner team has to realize the importance of the change and embrace it as a top priority.
- Finally, the leader and the Guiding Coalition also need to embrace and focus on a positive vision for the future. Too often all we hear from leaders during a change effort is doom and gloom – “we will go bankrupt,” “our stock price will plummet,” “layoffs will ensue.” These may be important statements to get people’s attention at the beginning, but you then need to focus on how wonderful the future will be once you work through the challenge.
There is no magic process for leading a successful change – which is why it is so hard. But if you focus on this Triad – Sense of Urgency, Guiding Coalition, and Vision & Strategy – your odds for success will increase significantly.