I’ve been in the middle of some significant changes at work lately. Many of those changes have to do with a few simple words that mean a great deal: pursing a better way. These words are one of our three why’s and help guide our teams in everything we do. When starting an initiative, like defining your why’s, you may be met with some resistance. You might think you have enough going on already or wonder if this should wait until other tasks are completed. These might sound like excuses, but they may actually just be an opportunity to improve change management.
Change, and resistance to it, is about as human and predictable as any other topic in organizations. We all like the way we do things now more than any new way. We have all grown comfortable with the way things are currently. We fear uncertainty. These barriers exist for almost all members of the team.
The difference between an important change working and it being quagmired in resistance, is urgency. Urgency is step #1 in Kotter’s 8 step change model – see below. He presents this model in a number of his books and articles but notably in “The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations”.
Kotter’s Change Model
- Urgency – make your case
- Building a guiding coalition
- Provide a vision
- Communicate the vision
- Empower others to act
- Create short term wins
- Build Momentum
- Make it stick, culturally
Urgency is the responsibility of the leader, who is the change agent. This is where you need to make your case to the stakeholders affected. Why is this important? What is at stake? Why do we need to do it now? What impact will it have if we are successful or if we fail?
As you can imagine, the early questions that could have been labeled “resistance” are really asking for what the urgency is. And to get the change rolling, answers need to be provided to the team, and they need to process through them. Only then, can you move ahead with the change. When I find a change is on rocky ground, I often go back and look at the steps in Kotter’s Change Model. It doesn’t take very long and I identify what step we went thru too quickly or jumped over. It’s then a matter of doing the work needed to get back on track with the team and the change.
If you are the change agent for a significant change, I’d encourage you to use Kotter’s model ahead of time and think through the early steps. A small investment in time going in can make a real difference later in change effectiveness (and personal pain). If you live in this time, your life involves change. If you are leading right now, you are certainly driving some change. Let’s supercharge our change efforts with some process and some science. Get yourself some Kotter and boldly go where we need to go – forward, towards a better way!
Dave Crumrine, Interstates Construction President