Recently when my colleagues and I were asked to develop a workshop for an organization, the HR director told me they didn't want a leadership program. We were informed that they really wanted was a change leadership program. The implication was that there is another type of leadership aimed at squarely change. But, I argued, the primary focus of all leadership is change. When you take a position or if you decide to take steps to reach a desired end--it's all about change.
When I conduct a workshop on change leadership, I stress the four critical steps of the change process. Once you understand the four steps, then you can plan a course of action by giving careful thought to how you will execute each step. Given the ongoing and sometimes surprising nature of the change process, you'll find that the implementation of the steps will change subtlety from time to time. That is, think of the steps as a guide, but that you will be change the direction or take a different path if the situation demands it.
1. Preparing for Change
In the modern world, it is common to think that "change" is something new, but change has always been the default state. Machiavelli--one of the first successful business book authors--wrote: "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."
Even if your idea is the most brilliant, or your change agenda is for the betterment of mankind, you are going to face a series of challenges. You need to prepare for change by anticipating resistance and preempting any derailment efforts. Keep in mind that as you introduce an idea you will have to overcome resistance at all levels. Resistance isn't always clear, forthright, or open.
To detect where resistance may pop up, you have to pay attention to the what's going on in your immediate work group, the larger organization, and, to a degree, what is happening in the larger society. Could someone in your workgroup be lobbying against your effort? Is the organization going to hire an outside consultant to do what you propose doing in-house? Are there be forces outside of the organization at work to make your idea untenable? This is not to say that you should be paranoid, but you have to be on the lookout for possible obstacles to your efforts, and thinking about ways to overcome those obstacles.
2. Initiating Change
Jack Welch, the one-time CEO of GE is famous for saying, "Change before you have to." This brilliant remark captures two realities. The first is that change is part of life; the second is that you can choose if you will be active or passive in the face of change. Active change leaders bring their own ideas and agendas to the table--and go after their change agenda with enthusiasm and passion. Passive leaders wait for change to happen--and tend to adapt to change in a sluggish or sloppy manner. Jack Welch suggests that it is better to be an active change leader.
3. Putting Change in Place
Walt Disney said, "Get a good idea and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it's done right." Once you get the ball rolling, you have to monitor the political terrain constantly. You have to detect and avoid sabotage and make sure you or your team does not fall into a slump. Tirelessly support your idea to ensure its implementation.
4. Stabilizing Change
As your idea or agenda is being implemented, you want to maintain momentum. You want to keep the support for your change project to be positive, and you want some of that goodwill to carryover into strong initial support for your next change agenda. It is never too early to begin building support for your next project.
Almost every leader of a change effort--no matter if you are part of a Fortune 500 company or leading a start-up--will pass through these four phases of change. However, these phases will have different characteristics for different efforts. No two change efforts are the same. Depending on the scope of the change effort, a given phase could last as little as a few weeks, or as long as decades. And while you will never get an email saying, "Congrats, your change effort is initiated. You may now move to putting change in place," you need to constantly be sensitive to where you are in the process. That is, you have to know what you need to be doing now and what you need to begin doing soon. If you can keep your sense of where your effort stands, you'll be much better prepared for ensuring not only the success of our change effort, but also your own.