Sometimes, “Just do it” is good advice. It may even work with smaller, incremental change. But when faced with a really large change–whether personal or organizational–it is a recipe for disaster.
Over the last few weeks we have looked at what is needed before stepping off on a difficult change journey: Overview: Create Your Change Story, Overview: Prepare for the Change Journey, and Overview: Plan the Change Journey. (Additional posts about these topics can be found by scrolling below each overview.) Today I am addressing some of the key lessons I have learned over the years about the change journey itself.
All too often, what stands between us and success is that we don’t grant ourselves permission: permission to make mistakes, permission to take risks, permission to try something new, permission to experiment, permission to let go, permission to think and/or act in ways we have not in the past. Yet all of these things are key elements to successfully executing major change.
By definition, you are stepping into uncharted territory. Neither you nor anyone accompanying you has all the answers. Neither you nor anyone accompanying you will get through this mistake-free. Neither you nor anyone accompanying you will get through this “the way we’ve always done it.” Grant yourself permission, and grant permission to those accompanying you, or you will never find your way to success on the other side.
Begin With the End In Mind; Keep the End In Mind
Remember, you begin by creating the change story for a reason. A clearly articulated end state that everyone can work toward is critical to success. But, we are all human, after all. “Bright, shiny objects” do catch our attention. If this is a business change, perhaps the competition has announced its own “X” strategy. If its a personal change, your closest friend may ask you to start doing “Y” with him. Maybe it’s an article in a journal, or a documentary you just saw. “Crises of the moment” also have the ability to easily distract us.
Every day, ask “What am I doing today to move this change forward?” Every day, ask those who are supporting you in the change, “What are you doing today to move this change forward?”
When those bright shiny things appear, ask yourself, “How will this help us move forward with the change?” If it won’t, why pursue it?
When those crises arise, ask yourself, “How will this affect progress toward the goal?” All too often, supposed crises appear urgent, and yet they are unimportant in the context of your change. I remember one time being at breakfast with a client before he held a town hall to launch a new initiative. The stock market opened, and began to plunge. As we sat there in the restaurant, some of his direct reports urged him to delay the town hall, to rush back to the office. “What am I going to do there,” he replied. “I can’t drive the market back up. Markets fall; markets rise; that’s what they do. But I know that if we don’t successfully move this change forward, what happens in the market won’t matter at all to us. Moving us ahead of the competition is the best thing I can do for our the organization, and today we start to do that.”
Monitor Adaptation Capacity
Put too much change on the plate, and it will all come up short of its goals. Don’t keep enough on the plate, and you fall short of your (or the organization’s) potential. Think of it as training for the Olympics; you need to keep stretching…giving yourself enough time for rest and recovery, and then stretching again.
In organizations undergoing change, it is important to have a process in place for monitoring available capacity; we’ve discussed this in earlier blogs. Some organizations track leading indicators of change overload: things like absenteeism patterns, on the job accidents, employee disputes.
One of the most effective ways to do this monitoring, whether in a large organization, or in terms of a personal change, is to learn the changes in individual behavior that signal the onset of overload. These can get very idiosyncratic. I once had a person working for me who was extremely sharp. Barbara could keep all of my clients straight in her mind: their names, the organizations that they worked for, the work I was doing with them, etc. I quickly learned that when she began to talk about clients and confusing their organizations or the work we were doing with them, it meant that Barbara was in overload. First, I made it okay for her to acknowledge that; we all have a limit to our capacity. Then, whenever she crossed that threshold, I would ask her to help me figure out what to “take off her plate” (literally stop doing, or postpone, or extend a deadline for) so that she could again move forward successfully.
Don’t Forget the World Is Changing Too
I live in a former slide rule factory (link provided for those who don’t know what a slide rule is). I learned how to program on punch cards. When I entered the workforce, the expectation was you would get a job out of college, stay with that employer, advance (or not), and ultimately retire from the same employer.
The point here is, the world keeps changing. In a recent study, 91% of millennials reported that they expect to stay in their current job less than three years. The slide rule was replaced by the electronic calculator was replaced by the app on the smart phone. 88% of the Fortune 500 companies of 1955 are gone.
Keep your eye on the destination of your change journey. But also keep your eye on the changes going on around you. Any one of them could signal the need for a change in the route you are taking, or the need to stop and rethink the destination itself.
Whether I am coaching, mentoring, or consulting, one of the more difficult challenges for those I am working with is maintaining a “work/life balance.” At the end of the day, all change is personal…individuals either deliver the end result, or they don’t. Maintaining balance is a way of contributing to maintaining capacity…the more stressed we are, the more tired we are, the less capacity we have to invest in a change. Maintain your own work/life balance; work with those who are on the change journey with you to ensure that they do the same.
Monitor progress toward your milestones. As has been discussed in past posts, don’t just monitor “installation;” ensure that you are tracking progress toward the actual outcomes you want to achieve.
Monitor risks. Watch for early warning signs. The sooner you see a risk, the greater the opportunity to do something about it without it growing and doing significant damage to your progress. (One client I work with says it this way. “Red is good. Red is good when risks are surfaced early and actions are taken to mitigate those risks.”)
Don’t just celebrate the beginning of the change (“Yeah, I got into the MBA program I wanted!”) and the end. There is plenty to celebrate along the way. Not every celebration has to be huge. And, not every celebration needs to be about success. Celebrate effort. Celebrate mistakes. Don’t get carried away with it, but the fact that you gave yourself permission that you have never given yourself before is cause for celebration. The fact that you experimented with something you never permitted yourself to experiment with before is cause for celebration, even if you made mistakes along the way. Celebrate progress in whatever form it takes.
Clearly, there is much more to the change journey than I can cover here. Hopefully, some of these lessons will prove of value to you on your current and future change journeys. What lessons can you offer to others? Comment below.