Book: Leading Change

Leading Change is about how to implement significant changes in organizations. It discusses the Eight-Stage Process of Creating Major Change:

  1. Establishing a sense of urgency
  2. Creating the guiding coalition
  3. Developing a vision and strategy
  4. Communicating the change vision
  5. Empowering broad-based action
  6. Generating short-term wins
  7. Consolidating gains and producing more change
  8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture

These actions require leadership more than management, to define what the future should look like, align people with this vision, and inspire them to make it happen despite obstacles.

Establishing a sense of urgency is needed to overcome complacency, which can be caused by

  1. The absence of a major crisis
  2. Too many visible resources
  3. Low overall performance standards
  4. Organizational structures that focus employees on narrow functional goals
  5. Internal measurement systems that focus on the wrong performance indexes
  6. A lack of sufficient performance feedback from external sources
  7. A kill-the-messenger-of-bad-news, low-candor, low-confrontation culture
  8. Human nature, with its capacity for denial, especially if people are already busy or stressed
  9. Too much happy talk from senior management

Creating urgency can be done by attacking each of these, but these forces are not to be underestimated.

A guiding coalition is powerful coalition that can act as a team. It is needed for introducing change, since no one individual has the information needed to make all major decisions or the time or credibility needed to convince lots of people to implement the decisions. The following characteristics are essential for individuals in a guiding coalition:

  1. Position power to prevent others from blocking progress
  2. Expertise to make informed, intelligent decisions
  3. Credibility to be taken seriously by others
  4. Leadership to drive the process

Make sure to avoid individuals with egos that fill up the room. Also avoid so-called snakes, people who create enough mistrust to kill teamwork.

To make the guiding coalition into a team, you have to create trust (through lots of joint activities) and develop a common goal (that is sensible to the head and appealing to the heart).

Developing a vision simplifies the detailed decisions, motivates people to take action in the right direction, and coordinates the actions of different people. An effective vision is:

  1. Imaginable: conveys a picture of what the future will look like
  2. Desirable: appeals to the long-term interests of employees, customers, stockholders and other stakeholders
  3. Feasible: comprises realistic, attainable goals
  4. Focused: is clear enough to provide guidance in decision making
  5. Flexible: is general enough to allow individual initiative and alternate responses in light of changing conditions
  6. Communicable: is easy to communicate; can be successfully explained in 5 minutes

The most effective transformational visions:

  1. Are ambitious enough to force people out of their comfort zones
  2. Aim in a general way at becoming better and better at lower and lower costs
  3. Take advantage of fundamental trends, like globalization and new technology
  4. Exploit nobody and therefore have a certain moral power

Communicating the change vision requires:

  1. Simplicity: all jargon must be eliminated
  2. Metaphor, analogy, and example: a verbal picture is worth a thousands words
  3. Multiple forums: big and small meetings, memos and newspapers, formal and informal interaction
  4. Repetition: ideas sink in deeply only after they have been heard many times
  5. Leadership by example: behavior from important people that is inconsistent with the vision overwhelms other forms of communication
  6. Explanation of seeming inconsistencies: unaddressed inconsistencies undermine the credibility of all communication
  7. Give-and-take: two-way communication is always more powerful than one-way communication

Empowering employees for broad-based action faces these barriers:

  1. Formal structures make it difficult to act
  2. A lack of needed skills undermines action
  3. Personnel and information systems make it difficult to act
  4. Bosses discourage actions aimed at implementing the new vision

Generating short-term wins is also essential for major change. A win has to be:

  1. Visible: so people know it’s not just hype
  2. Unambiguous
  3. Clearly related to the goal

If you get them right, short-term wins:

  1. Provide evidence that sacrifices are worth it
  2. Reward change agents with a pat on the back
  3. Help fine-tune vision and strategies
  4. Undermine cynics and self-serving resisters
  5. Keep bosses on board
  6. Build momentum

You need to plan for these short-term wins, since they don’t just happen. Sometimes people don’t plan short-term wins, because:

  1. They are overwhelmed by the change process
  2. They don’t believe one can produce major change and achieve excellent short-term results
  3. Lack sufficient management skills

Consolidating gains and producing more change is needed because resistance is always waiting to re-assert itself. This resistance can come from interdependency, where a change in one part requires changes in many other parts. Attacking resistance results in:

  1. More change, not less: The guiding coalition uses the credibility afforded by short-term wins to tackle additional and bigger change projects
  2. More help: Additional people are brought in, promoted, and developed to help with all the changes
  3. Leadership from senior management: Senior people focus on maintaining clarity of shared purpose for the overall effort and keeping urgency levels up
  4. Project management and leadership from below: Lower ranks in the hierarchy both provide leadership for specific projects and manage those projects
  5. Reduction of unnecessary interdependencies: To make change easier in both the short and long term, managers identify unnecessary interdependencies and eliminate them

Anchoring new approaches in the culture is the final step in the change process. Culture refers to norms of behavior and shared values among a group of people. Norms of behavior are common or pervasive ways of acting that are found in a group and that persist because group members tend to behave in ways that teach these practices to new members, rewarding those who fit in and sanctioning those who do not. Shared values are important concerns and goals shared by most of the people in a group that tend to shape group behavior and that often persists over time even when group membership changes.

Culture is a powerful thing, because:

  1. Individuals are selected and indoctrinated so well
  2. Culture exerts itself through the actions of hundreds or thousands of people
  3. All of this happens without much conscious intent and thus is difficult to challenge or even discuss

Anchoring change in a culture:

  1. Comes last, not first
  2. Depends on results
  3. Requires a lot of talk
  4. May involve turnover
  5. Makes decisions on succession crucial

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