“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” –Socrates
Implementing change is one of the most difficult organizational challenges. Few people want to step outside their comfort zone, preferring to “leave well enough alone.” However, change is often necessary to improve a business’s products and processes, adjust to new market conditions, and remain competitive.
Because of its challenging nature, organizational change is among the most researched topics in management. Dr. John Kotter, professor at Harvard and author of Leading Change, is a pioneer in the field. From his research, he developed an eight-step process for turning resistance into forward momentum. Here are the steps he recommends and a brief explanation of how you can follow them to generate enthusiasm, rather than resistance, in your organization.
- Create a sense of urgency. People may need help understanding why change is important. In change management, the term “burning platform” is often used to promote change. Derived from the analogy of standing on an offshore oil platform on fire, it illustrates the potentially dire consequences of inaction. This not to suggest that you threaten employees with their lives! It does help, however, to show the harm that can result from continuing to do nothing differently.
- Build a guiding coalition. Change typically fails when a one-person army tries to make it happen on their own. Buy-in from executives and stakeholders is needed to drive change. Creating a cross-functional team is the best way to lead the effort and prevent unease and resistance.
- Form a strategic message and initiatives. In order to align the efforts of multiple teams, it is important to offer a shared vision of how the change will solve challenges facing the organization. You should also explain how the change will take place through a series of manageable initiatives.
- Enlist a volunteer army. Get others to rally their colleagues around your vision. Encourage them to communicate the steps needed to achieve it and provide opportunities for feedback. Change is only possible when the parties involved are committed to its success.
- Enable action by removing barriers. As momentum for change builds, obstacles will undoubtedly present themselves. Address current processes’ bias towards the status quo by identifying them and highlighting how they hinder progress. Communicate with those who oppose change and understand what they need to become a supporter.
- Generate short-term wins. Address issues that are easy to fix and have a noticeable impact on the team. Celebrate these small wins and highlight them to those who still oppose change or are on the fence. Generate a roadmap of small, iterative improvement targets and how you are meeting them. Keeping the quick wins low in effort but high in impact will help overcome remaining resistance.
- Sustain acceleration. Build on small successes and leverage the forward momentum. Ideally, you are developing the organizational muscles to tackle higher-effort, higher-impact opportunities. Gradually ramp up from the smaller changes to the more ambitious efforts.
- Institute change. Identify and communicate the connection between new habits and behaviors and improvements in the organization. Highlight these connections and use them to tackle other changes and keep things moving forward. This will ensure old processes and habits don’t sneak back in and sabotage your success!