Momentum is as important for change programs as it is in sports.

Momentum is as important for change programs as it is in sports.

Sports enthusiasts will understand the concept of momentum. Momentum is often used to indicate that team is moving in the right direction and that significant energy will be needed deter them from scoring or winning. The perception of momentum is as important for change programs as it is in sports. Any significant change will tend to take a long time to evolve, compete and become institutionalized. The long-term nature of significant change makes it easy for attention and energy to wane. Short-term wins, step 6 in Kotter’s 8 Step Model for Change, are an important tool to ensuring that any change program is actually given the time to succeed.

Short-term wins are points along the path to the larger goals that provide tangible results that the changes being made are working and will yield results EARLY and often. Effective short term-wins are planned, rather than left to chance. They deliver unambiguous results that are broadly visible and related to the change effort. Kotter does not include planned in his list of attributes of an effective short-term win, however I have found that unless planned, it will be difficult to truly attribute the win to the change program. While opportunistic wins are great, you cannot count on them to magically appear when needed. For short-term wins to happen, be observed and to be easily attributable requires a combination of active leadership and management. Leadership provides the vision and energy for the change and the steps along the way while management delivers the organization and tactical execution. Both are needed.

Kotter suggests that short-term wins play six different roles in supporting change. They are:

  1. Provide evidence of value – It is very difficult to ask people and organizations to sacrifice for something far in the future. Short-term wins provide feedback that sacrifice now has value now and in the future.
  2. Positive feedback to change agents – Leading and promoting change is difficult work requiring reward. Short-term wins provide a platform for an “attaboy” or a pat on the back that is helpful for providing motivation.
  3. Tuning – Agile methods leverage retrospectives of all types to generate feedback for tuning the trajectory of a tasks or project. Planned short-term wins provide feedback that is useful as tuning mechanism.
  4. Undermine resisters – Nothing breaks through resistance like success. Few if any significant change programs do not have detractors, without positive feedback and success along the way it is easier for the voices of detractors to gain credence. Success generates creditably for the change and those leading the change program while reducing the credibility of those that are actively resisting.
  5. Keep stakeholders on board – The first of Demining 14 Points for Management is that management must generate constancy of purpose toward improvement. Short-term wins are helpful for keeping stakeholders on board with the long-term plan for change.
  6. Build the big MO – Visible momentum toward a goal paradoxically is a reflection of the positive energy a change program exhibits and a mechanism for generating long-term energy toward progress. Short term wins generate momentum.

Most change programs are based on empirical models. Changes are planned, implemented, observed and then changed and adapted. Organization changes, just like turning a large ship or stopping a freight train, generally do not happen overnight. Without positive feedback, short-term wins, it will be easy to wander off course or for another bright shiny idea to capture organizational attention and causing failure.

Re-read Summary to-date

Change is a fact of life. John P. Kotter’s book, Leading Change, defines his famous eight-stage model for change. The first stage of the model is establishing a sense of urgency. A sense of urgency provides the energy and rational for any large, long-term change program. Once a sense of urgency has been established, the second stage in the eight-stage model for change is the establishment of a guiding coalition. If a sense of urgency provides energy to drive change, a guiding coalition provides the power for making change happen. A vision, built on the foundation of urgency and a guiding coalition, represents a picture of a state of being at some point in the future. Developing a vision and strategy is only a start, the vision and strategy must be clearly and consistently communicated to build the critical mass needed to make change actually happen. Once an organization wound up and primed, the people within the organization must be empowered and let loose to create change. Short-term wins provide the feedback and credibility needed to deliver on the change vision.