Classic change theory: leadership drives change and leadership needs to commit for change to work.
Seems to make sense, but in reality leadership is irrelevant. The organization’s ability to change is dictated by operational units and employees, not leadership.
The reality: culture eats strategy for lunch. Your workers dictate change and strategy.
Leadership doesn’t drive change, total quality management, Lean manufacturing, or Six Sigma. None of it relies on leadership. Change relies on culture and in the case of culture, leadership is along for the ride and rarely in the driver seat.
The reason your organization changes fail is you continue to believe change has to do with you.
Organization change management has little to, and everything to, do with them.
Organizations change for their reasons, not yours, not the stockholders, not the competition, not the tax payer.
Capsize to Rightsize
If leadership does not get culture, if leadership does not realize culture is more powerful than they, themselves, are, if leadership thinks their winning smile and advanced degrees are enough to influence change, then, sadly, yes – change will fail.
In the assessment stage, I generally lead with John Kotter’s, 8-Step Process for Leading Change:
Step 1: Create Urgency
Step 2: Form a Powerful Coalition
Step 3: Create a Vision for Change
Step 4: Communicate the Vision
Step 5: Remove Obstacles
Step 6: Create Short-term Wins
Step 7: Build on the Change
Step 8: Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture
Change is not a prescription because:
- All people do not have the same symptoms and
- All people do not believe in the cure.
The slow reality I experience time and again is that Kotter presents less a prescription than a wish list; in that you wish you could get to all the steps. In many interactions there seems much dialogue around being aware of Kotter and less around a plan designed to implement all steps. Similar to being aware of the gym, but never quite getting there.
Kotter’s 8-steps provide a solid structural change lifecycle for any organization to follow. The most important step I want to get on the table and the heart of the challenge and unique to each organization is culture. Of the 8 steps that is absolutely organization-specific Step 8: Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture is the mortar for change.
For me, this is not the 8th step, this is the 1st step. Better yet, start your change assessment with a diagnosis of your culture to understand how change will roll out or whither.
Culture: The 8th Wonder of the Corporate World
Culture will dictate the compelling urgency and at what level the term “compelling” means to whom. I am, in no way discounting John Kotter. His book, Leading Change provides a top framework. I am simply amping up the role culture has in any change effort’s likelihood of success.
Think through your organization with the organization or business unit culture when thinking change and you’ll get a better gauge of the road ahead.
Even Kotter estimates 70% of all change fails. Isn’t your next effort worth a better effort and the right planning? Culture and competing values is what drives your organization’s resistance.
Appreciate Competing Values, Inquire Within
No one individual, or leader, can change a culture, only when a majority acts on change and localizes change can the majority not only commit to the change, but find a commitment to change by contributing themselves to change evolution. People conform because it helps them escape uncertainty.
When you appreciate organization culture you realize change sticks through with majority. Planning with Appreciative Inquiry works because the system facilitation relies those who live the experience to build the future state of what could be.
Leaders can inspire through a vision, but groups define that vision by placing their future in a position comfortable within that change, if there is not a comfortable position for each or for the team, the future is rejected, no matter how powerful the CEO believes themselves.
There is wisdom in crowds.
As it stands statistically your strategy will fail, so let’s start with culture, forget leadership.
Once you know more about the culture you can manage the scope needed to impact change. A great way to have change stick is to invite the organization to build the change they are to be a part of: to crowdsource your strategic plan.