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Leading Change in the Workplace

Leading Change in the Workplace

There are many examples from the world of business that show us how important change and innovation are to an organization’s very survival. Take Blackberry for example. A few years ago they were industry leaders in the cellphone market, with their qwerty keyboards being especially popular amongst the business savvy.  But Blackberry seemed to get too comfortable, too complacent, and in essence, Research in Motion had stopped moving. In 2007, Apple came in with the iPhone, and the rest is history. Blackberry has been stuck playing catchup ever since.

Now, you may have questions, such as “How can my organization adapt to the chaos of a constantly changing market?” or “How can I embrace change in the workplace?” or better yet, “How can I lead change?

Dr. John Kotter, a retired professor at Harvard Business School, has developed an 8 step system that will show you how to lead change in your own organization. These steps may seem common sense, and probably are intuitive to many successful change-makers, but the way that Dr. Kotter lays it out, step by step, will really help you visualize the process. It will make those subconscious notions into something you will consciously notice. In a world of turbulence, it’s always better to have a plan that explains how a team leader can implement change in the workplace.

Step 1: Establish a Sense of Urgency!

The first step of leading change is building that feeling of ‘Something about this must be done!” and making people realize that the change will affect them for the better. If you don’t mind the mixed metaphors, the window of opportunity is only open for a limited time, so if you don’t seize the day, the iron will get cold. But that really is the message you want to get across, that feeling of true urgency that will have your people striving for real progress

It’s the same way how a sense of urgency can force you to get things done. If you know you have things to do, but you don’t have a set deadline for when to do them, it makes it so much easier to put it off and procrastinate. Think of procrastination as being like complacency, which are both anathemas to change.


Step 2: Generate the Guiding Coalition

Leading change is not a one-man (or woman) show, and the next step in the process is building the coalition, or team, that will guide your change initiative.  Your team not only has to be on the same page, but have the expertise and credibility to rally others to the cause. Think about who you would want on your team.

Remember that everyone has their areas of expertise, and you should choose people with complementary skill sets to ensure your coalition is well-rounded.  The people in your team should also have the leadership and power to drive change themselves.  It is critical that the members of your team trust each other, even though they may not agree with each other all the time.


Step 3: Developing a Change Vision

Think of your vision as the overarching theme of your change initiative.  It should act as the guiding force that connects your strategies, action plans and budget, while at the same time motivating the people in your organization. It should inspire and also serve as a basic understanding, a jumping-off point, for everyone involved.

It needs to be easily communicated and resonate with people, and make them want to join in on the change. Keep in mind that it doesn’t need to be overly long or complicated. Indeed, there can be a certain beauty in simplicity. Remember Apple’s “Think Different” campaign?  The best visions are flexible, imaginable, and feasible.


Step 4: Communicating the Vision for Buy-In

The next step in developing your change vision is getting the word out, but it is more than just a numbers game. It needs to go beyond just telling people the vision; they need to understand and accept it. Ensuring that people understand and accept the vision comes from communication and consistency. A series of memos or speeches by the CEO is not enough.  The vision needs to be internalized into the day-to-day happenings of the organization as people need to see how it permeates all aspects of your organization from the education programs, to internal memos, to the quarterly meetings.


Step 5: Empowering Broad-Based Action

This step involves removing obstacles to change in order to empower the people to unleash their potential. The most common barriers are often structural, which arise out of the way the company is organized.  For example, the many layers of management and bureaucracy of some organizations can often hinder progress and waste time when it comes to making quick decisions.

Troublesome supervisors may also resist and be significant barriers to change, and the best way to deal with them is to be open and honest.  The goal should not be to manipulate or trick a troublesome supervisor into doing what you want; your end goal should be for them to become part of the team.

You should also keep in mind that your team members can also become leaders amongst their own groupsand sometimes you need to give up ownership of an idea because organizational change doesn’t just depend on one person, it depends on many. If you give people the power and freedom to go off on their own, you could be amazed at what they come up with.


Step 6: Create Short-Term Wins

This step involves breaking up what may seem to be an intimidating or insurmountable task into a series of smaller, achievable ‘wins’. With the vision you created in step 3 acting as a guide, you need to think of what you need to achieve to make it happen.  It may help if you start with the end goal in mind, and think of what you need to get there, and keep on going back until you reach the first step. Use this as an outline of what you need to do.

The short-term wins must be visible and unambiguous, and they will not only help keep track of progress but as you get more of these wins, it will build momentum.  This is related to the basic premises of SMART Goal Setting and Management by Objectives (MBO) theory.

Remember that even a marathon begins with a single step, and then another, and another, and repeat until you’ve run those 26 miles. Each short-term win is another step in achieving your vision.


Step 7: Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change

Keep moving forward, and do not give up. The long-term success of your change initiative depends on it. Do not lose that sense of urgency! Keep the pressure on and always be looking forward.

By this step, you should be beginning to see the fruits of your labor in the form of a growing list of short-term wins, growing support from senior leadership, and employee empowerment.


Step 8: Make it Stick

Making sure the changes become embedded in the organizational culture is the final step in Leading Change.  It needs to be ingrained in the culture and requires frequent communication and consistency. You must create an atmosphere that is supportive of the change and be able to show how the benefits clearly outweigh the old ways.

Change is a fundamental force that affects all things. Naturally, this also includes you, and your organization. We all know there are some changes that are inevitable and unavoidable, such as the passage of time (and taxes!), and the best way to deal with it is to try to lead it in the right direction.  I hope you will use the 8 Steps to leading change in the workplace as a guide to improving your organization.

It all starts with the first step. So, what are you waiting for?

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