Fire Alarm

 

Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning good change. Change in a dynamic business environment has become an accepted norm. Organizations must adapt or lose relevancy. The concept of kaizen has been adopted within the information technology industry as part of core management practices. In business terms, kaizen has been defined as continuous incremental change. You need energy to make change occur, in many cases, a sense of urgency is the mechanism used to generate the energy to drive continuous change. (more…)

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We complete the re-read of John P. Kotter’s book Leading Change by reviewing the implications from the last two chapters of the book.  Part Three paints the picture of a world in which the urgency for change will not abate and perhaps might even increase.  In chapter 11, titled The Organization of the Future, Kotter suggests that while in the past a single key leader can drive change, collaboration at the top of organizations is now required due to both the rate and complexity of change.  He argues that one person simply can’t have the time and expertise to manage, lead, communication, provide vision . . .  you get the point.  The message in the chapter is that for organizations of any type to prosper in the 21st century the ability to create and communicate vision is critical.  That skill needs to be fostered and developed over the long term just as any other significant organizational asset.  Long-term and continuous development of leadership is not accomplished simply by providing in a two-week course in leadership. While leadership is critical, it only goes so far in creating and fostering change and must be supplemented by a culture of empowerment. Broad-based empowerment allows organizations to tap a wide range of knowledge and energy at all levels of the organization.

Boiling the message of Chapter 11 down, Kotter suggests that an organization that will be at home with the dynamic nature of the 21st century will require a lean, non-bureaucratic structure that leverages a wide range of performance data. For example, in an empowered organization performance data must be gathered and analyzed from many sources. Performance data (e.g. customer satisfaction, productivity, returns, quality and others) gains maximum power when everyone has access to the data in order to drive continuous improvements. The culture of the new organization needs to shift from internally focused and command and control to an externally focused, non-bureaucratic organization. While Kotter does not use the terms lean and Agile, the organization he describes as tuned to the 21st Century reflects the tenants of lean and agile.

Chapter 12, titled Leadership and Lifelong Learning, circles back to the concept of leadership. It is a constant thread across all facets of the eight-stage model of change detailed in Leading Change. Kotter describes the need for leaders to continually develop competitive capacity (the capability to deal with an increasing competitive and dynamic environment). The model Kotter uses to describe the development competitive capacity begins with personal history and flows through competitive drive, lifelong learning, skills and abilities to competitive capacity.  Lifelong learning is an input and a tool for developing and honing skills and abilities. Skills and abilities feed competitive capacity. In our re-read of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey culminated the Seven Habit with the habit call Sharpening the Saw.  Sharpening the Saw is a prescription for balanced self-renewal.  Life-long learning is an important component in balanced self-renewal. Whether you read Kotter or Covey the need to continuously learn is an inescapable necessity of any leaders.

As a rule, I am never overwhelmed by the chapters after the meat of most self-help books (I consider Leading Change a management self-help book, part of a continuum that Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People would be found on also). Part Three of Leading Change ties the book together by reinforcing the need for the eight-stage model for change and to address the need for continuously sharpening the saw.  Kotter’s model is a tool that requires leaders to apply therefore organizations and leaders must foster the capacity to address needed changes.

Re-read Summary

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. The benefits and feedback from the short-term wins and other environmental feedback are critical for consolidating gains and producing more change. Once a change has been made it needs to anchored so that that the organization does not revert to older, comfortable behaviors throwing away the gains they have invest blood, sweat and tears to create.

The need for change is not abating. The eight-stage model for change requires leadership and vision.  Organizations need to foster leadership while both organizations and the people in those organizations must continually learn and hone their skills.

Next week we will review the list of books that readers of the blog and listeners to the podcast have identified as having a major impact on their career to vote on the next book we will tackle on Re-read Saturday.  Right now The Mythical Man Month by Fred Brooks is at the top of the list.  Care to influence the list?  Let me know the two books that most influenced your career.

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Consider an elastic band that has been stretched between two points. If the elastic hasn’t lost its stretch, as soon as it is released at one end it will snap back. Organizational culture is like that elastic band. We pull and stretch to make changes and then we want them to settle in. However, we need to anchor the change so that when we change focus the changes don’t disappear. The eighth step in Kotter’s eight-stage model of change discusses this need to anchor the change to avoid reversion.

Culture describes the typical behaviors of a group and the meaning ascribed to those behaviors. Kotter describes culture as the reflection of shared values and group norms. All groups have a specific culture that allows them to operate in a predictable manner. Within a group or organization, culture allows members to interpret behavior and communication, and therefore build bonds of trust. When culture is disrupted bond are scrambled and behavior becomes difficult to predict until culture is reset. If a change program declares victory before the culture is reset, the group or organization tends to revert to back to the original cultural norm.

Culture is powerful because:

  1. The individuals within any group are selected to be part of the group and then indoctrinated into the culture. Cognitive biases are a powerful force that pushes people to hire and interact with people that are like them, homogenizing and reinforcing culture. Culture is further reinforced by training, standards and processes that are used to reduce the level of behavioral variance in the organization. Standardization and indoctrination help lock in culture.
  2. Culture exerts itself through the actions of each individual. While in a small firm, the combination of the number of people in the firm and proximity to the leaders of the change make culture change easier (not easy just easier).  However when we consider mid-sized or large firms in which hundreds or thousands of people need to make a consistent and permanent change to how they act, change gets really complicated. Since culture reflects and is reinforced by how people work, real change requires change each how each affected person behaves which is significantly more difficult to change than words in the personnel manual.
  3. Much actions taken in an organization is not driven by conscious decision which makes it hard to challenge or discuss. A significant amount of our work behavior is governed by shared values and muscle memory. I often hear the statement “that’s just the way it is done here” when I ask why a team has taken a specific action. Many of these actions are unconscious and therefore tend to go unrecognized until challenged from the outside. Pushing people away from comfortable patterns of behavior generates cognitive dissonance.

Less power is needed overcome entrenched culture if the change can build on the organization’s base culture rather than having to confront it. Building on to the current culture will often generate some early momentum towards change because those being asked to change see less risk. Alternately change that is at odds with the current culture will require significantly more effort and a greater sense of urgency to generate and sustain.

Kotter argues that culture changes trail behavior. Put another way, culture change happens last. Each of the stages in the model for change are designed to build urgency, momentum and support for organizational changes. Vision provides the direction for the change. Results provide proof that the change works and is better than what it replaced. Continuous communication of vision, direction and results break through the barriers of resistance. Breaking down the layers of resistance challenges old values and pushes people to admit that the change is better. When barriers can’t or won’t change sometimes change means changing key people.  Nihilistic behavior in the face of results can’t be allowed to exist. Kotter finally points out that in order to anchor long-term change the organization will need to ensure that both succession planning and promotions reinforce the change rather than allow reversion.

Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Innumerable people have suggested a corollary that says “Culture eats change for breakfast.” The Eight Stage Model for Significant Change provides a strategy for overcoming the power of an entrenched culture to generate lasting change.

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. The benefits and feedback from the short-term wins and other environmental feedback are critical for consolidating gains and producing more change. Once a change has been made it needs to anchored so that that the organization does not revert to older, comfortable behaviors throwing away the gains they have invest blood, sweat and tears to create.

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My local football (US variety) team seems to have the ability to be winning throughout the game only to wear out, lose focus or generally find a way to lose with very little time left on the clock. Significant organizational changes, like pursuing a goal or winning a game, is not over until the change is complete and it has become part of the culture. Stage 7 of Kotter’s 8-stage process for creating major changes is consolidating gains and producing more change. Just like my local football team, you must make sure you hold on to your gains and use them to build toward the next step forward. Kotter addresses two major topics in the stage: resistance and interdependence.

As time goes by and you experience short-term successes, it is easy to begin lose the urgency that helped power a change program. Until a change is written into an organization’s culture, resistance will always be lurking. Loss of urgency can lead to programs stalling. For example, I recently discussed a change program with colleagues that had been designed to transform an organization using Agile techniques including Scrum, continuous delivery and test driven development. Scrum was implemented as the first step and generated significant benefits. As the initial benefits were recognized, a number of leaders began to argue that 80% of the benefit had been generated and that the rest of the changes would be difficult. The argument led to a loss of urgency, momentum and a reduction in funding as attention wandered to another program with less resistance. Urgency and constancy of purpose must be continually maintained or resistance can lead to regression.

Significant organizational change typically requires changes to many different groups and processes to be effective. The larger the intended change, the larger the number of moving parts and interactions that will need to be involved when making a change. As most change programs progress, they evolve. Evolution is typically generated by feedback from the short-term wins and other sources within the environment. Changes help to identify new interactions and dependencies, which add complexity and the level of effort. Kotter uses an example of the difference of rearranging an office with all of the furniture attached with rubber bands and one without. The one in which the furniture is connected with rubber bands will require significantly more planning and effort. Each item will pull against each other as changes are made. As changes are identified, the program will potentially need to add new people and resources or perhaps even new subprojects many need to be established. Senior management needs to provide a sense of urgency for the change program and a vision of where the program is going. At the same time, the complexity of any significant change program requires tactical leadership and management. Effective change programs require both strategic vision and tactical management for effective delivery. The combination of interactions and dependencies cause complexity that requires focus and constancy of purpose by senior, middle and line management to facilitate change.

While any project or program evolves as new information and knowledge is discovered, we need to continually challenge the validity of change. Change causes complexity.  The higher the complexity of any program, the less likely they are to complete, at least effectively. One of the principles noted in the Agile Manifesto, is that “simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential.” Each part of the change program, and especially any changes or additions that are discovered as progress is made, must be evaluated to ensure that only what is required to deliver the vision is addressed. Remember the adage: keep it simple stupid. The tool to manage change is the guiding collation.  Use the guiding collation to accept change and to prioritize the change program’s backlog (sounds like a product owner).

Kotter summarizes stage 7 this way:

  • More change, not less – The program must build on the credibility and the feedback of the short-term wins.
  • More help – As inter-dependencies are identified, bring new people and resources into the program with the needed experience and knowledge.
  • Continued leadership – Senior management must have constancy of purpose. They need to continually provide and maintain a clear vision.
  • Project management and leadership from below – The individual projects and initiatives require tactical leadership and management to implement the visions of senior management.
  • Reduction of unnecessary inter-dependencies – Keep the change program as simple as it need to be.

All large projects, whether they are significant organizational change programs or not, take time and evolve. At some point, as change programs progress and generate benefits it will become tempting to declare victory. Yogi Berra stated “It ain’t over till it’s over.” A change program is not complete until it attains the vision for the program and has been integrated into the organization’s culture.

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.

A trail map enables hikers to choose their own path!

A trail map enables hikers to choose their own path!

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.

I view the stages the precede stage five to be a build up to the beginning of the main course. Each step is incredibly important and ignoring any of the steps will lead to problems and failure.  However, if the change you are attempting to generate is to be broad based and long lasting, you will need to empower people.  In this chapter Kotter discusses removing barriers to empowerment. Kotter singles out four categories of barriers for examination:

  1. Structural – Organizational structure defines how the lines of authority and responsibility are constructed in order to deliver the organization’s products and services. An organization’s structures are generally developed to effectively and efficiently deliver services and products based on a specific way of working. Structures are built to guide and control work AND to resist change. Managers often defend the current structure and their own base of power leading to specialization. Specialization generates silos; fragmenting the work so that to deliver a product or service, many handoffs are required.  Handoffs slow the flow of information and communication, which accentuates the need to foster stable processes over innovation. Breaking through structural barriers requires a constant sense of urgency and senior management oversight and dedication.
  2. Skills – Change often requires reskilling employees who have spent years acquiring knowledge and skills and believe they have been successful. The act of having to acquire new skills and change what has worked in the past generates fear of the future and resistance. People fear change they do not think will benefit them or at least can’t predict will be positive. A training strategy needs to couple the experience and concepts to convince those involved with the change that they will be successful. Training to reskill employees must be designed to combat resistance and to address adult learning (see Training Strategies for Transformations and Change: Synthesis).
  3. Systems – Systems of all types need to change to empower and support employees in making change. Systems include information technology applications (e.g. customer relationship systems and logistics systems) and business processes (e.g. objectives, hiring processes, promotions). Changes to the process and systems are critical to making change possible and then supporting change.
  4. Supervisors – Not all supervisors and middle managers will support the vision and strategy for change adopted by the organization. When these leaders baulk at empowering their employees, change often grinds to a halt. Kotter suggests that you should confront the recalcitrant with honest dialog. I would add that that when the dialog occurs (the earlier the better) that the power that urgency, vision and constancy of purpose be used to get holdouts on the change train. Employees with supervisors that actively resist the change will never feel safe enough to be empowered.

Empowering employees generates power and action.  They are required to transform a vision and strategy into something tangible rather than something ethereal.  Without empowered employees, change fails.

Communicate, many ways and many times!

Communicate, many ways and many times!

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. Once a vision has been established, it must be clearly and consistently communicated. Failure to effectively communicate the vision will cripple change.

Kotter lists seven attributes for effective communication of the change vision.

  1. Keep it simple – The vision must be clearly understandable by all of those who are impacted. The message must be clear and simple, which means ZERO mumbo jumbo. The United States Coast Guard has the one of best vision statements I have ever read, “The world’s best responders: anytime, any place, any hazard.” Everyone from top most senior officers to the most junior enlisted personnel would have difficulty misinterpreting the vision when making day-to-day decisions.
  2. Metaphor, analogy, and examples –Use words to paint pictures in people’s mind that clarify the complexity.
  3. Multiple forums – Increasing the number of vehicles used to communicate the message increases the chance that the vision will be heard, internalized and institutionalized.
  4. Repetition – Communicating a vision requires more than a roll-out speech and an article in the company newsletter. The vision needs to be continually repeated and reinforced in order to break through the clutter of competing communications.
  5. Leadership by example – Leaders must participate in and live the change. Living the change increases the credibility and deflects resistance. Perceived inconsistencies between the vision of change and how leadership acts will be noticed. Inconsistencies in behavior will hurt or deflect change.
  6. Explain perceived inconsistencies.
  7. Give and take – Communicating the vision for change requires two-way communication between leaders and others involved in making change a reality. Two-way communication means both listening and being heard. Communication implies that if the vision is wrong that the change vision may need to change.

Effective change requires that enough people understand the change they are being asked to make and where that change will lead them. Ambiguously crafted visions and communications will at best cause confusion and at worst derail change. Regardless of the urgent need for a change or how carefully the vision is crafted people do not follow those they feel are on the wrong path. This true even if the change has powerful backers. Effective communication of the change vision helps to build the critical mass needed to make change actually happen.

A vision provides a goal and direction to travel.

A vision provides a goal and direction to travel.

John P. Kotter’s book, Leading Change, established why change in organizations can fail and the forces that shape the changes when they are successful. The two sets of opposing forces he identifies in the first two chapters are used to define and illuminate 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. Once we identify or establish a sense of urgency and the power to make change happen we then have to wrestle establishing a vision and strategy. A vision represents a picture of a state of being at some point in the future. A vision acts as an anchor that establishes the goal of the transformation. A strategy defines the high level path to that future.

Kotter begins the first chapter by reviewing changes driven by different leadership styles that include authoritarian, micromanagement and visionary. Change driven by authoritarian decree (do it because I said so) and micromanagement (I will tell you step-by-step how to get from point A to point B and validate compliance to my instructions) often fail to break through the status quo. In fact, demanding change tends to generate resistance and passive aggressive behavior due to the lack of buy-in from those involved in the change. Couple the lack of buy-in with the incredible level of effort needed to force people to change and then to monitor that change, and scalability problems will surface. Neither authoritarian- nor micromanagement-driven techniques are efficient for responding to dynamic, large scale changes. Change driven by vision overcomes these issues by providing the direction and the rational for why the organization should strive together toward the future defined by the vision.

Effective visions are not easy to craft. Visions are important for three reasons. An effective vision will provide clarity of direction. A clear direction provides everyone making or guiding the change with a clearer set of parameters to make decisions. When lean and Agile teams crisply define the goals of a sprint or Agile release train (SAFe), they are using the same technique to break through the clutter and focus the decision making process on achieving the their goal. Secondly, visions are important because they provide hope by describing a feasible outcome. A vision of what is perceived as a feasible outcome provides a belief that the pain of change be overcome. Finally, a vision provides alignment. Alignment keeps people moving in a common direction.

Kotter defines six characteristics of an effective vision.

  1. Imaginable – The people who consume the vision must be able to paint a rational picture in their mind of what the world will be like if the vision is attained.
  2. Desirable – The vision appeal to the long-term interests of those being asked to change.
  3. Feasible – The vision has to be attainable.
  4. Focused – The vision provide enough clarity and alignment to guide organizational decisions.
  5. Flexible – The vision must provide enough direction to guide but not enough to restrict individual initiative.
  6. Communicable – The vision must be consumable and understandable to everyone involved in the change process. Kotter further suggests that if a vision can’t be explained in five minutes it has failed the test of communicable.

In the third stage of the eight-stage model for change, Kotter drills deeply into the rationale and the definition of an effective vision.  Kotter defines strategy as the logic for how the vision will be attained.  An effectively developed vision makes the processes of defining the path (strategy) for attaining vision far less contentious. The attributes of an effective vision including being imaginable, feasible and focused provide enough of a set of constraints to begin the process of defining how the vision can be achieved.

Some times you need help urgently.

Some times you need help urgently!

The first two chapters of John P. Kotter’s Leading Change established why change in organizations fails and the forces that shape successful changes in organizations and ultimately introduces the eight-stage process for creating major change.  Chapter three dives into the model by exploring the first phase.  A sense of urgency provides the source of energy that can drive change.  Without a sense of urgency that is shared by the majority of stakeholders, the level of effort required to deliver change will overwhelm any progress.  Period!

Simply put, change is difficult. In all but the newest organizations the status quo has an enormous amount of inertia.  Organizations have invested time and effort into building planning and control processes that lock in strategies and techniques that have been successful.  Breaking that inertia requires an application of energy to disrupt the process equilibrium most organizations develop.  For an example of inertia and established equilibriums, fill a bath tub with water, open the drain and then cover the drain hole with a plug (or your hand).  An equilibrium quickly forms between the water pushing down and the vacuum of the drain pipe.  If the pull of the vacuum or water pressure increased too much the system would fail and you would have to buy new plumbing. In order to break the seal and let the water out of the tub energy is needed to break the seal of the plug.  A sense of urgency is the energy that can be applied to break the seal and propel the change processes.

Complacency is the force that opposes urgency.  Complacency is a feeling of uncritical self-satisfaction with yourself or your organization’s achievements. Complacency is caused by numerous scenarios and activities including lack of a visible crisis, past success, trappings of success to “happy talk.”  Early in my career I worked for a major women’s garment manufacturer.  The firm was the largest and most successful junior clothing manufacturer.  The year after I joined the firm we achieved our highest sales year. Enter MTV and the ascendancy of boutique mall retailers (this was also the beginning of the significant consolidation of the department store market).  Our market research and sale leaders focused on talking primarily to accounts that were successful in selling our merchandise.  This was akin to having conversations in a fishbowl (closed, self-reinforcing environment). Other signs of behaviors and environmental conditions reinforced the feeling of complacency that kept the organization from generating a sense of urgency.  The first is was slow erosion of sales (no visible immediate crisis) and lots of trappings of success, such as holding sales meetings in luxury resorts even while sales plummeted. Complacency has to be broken for a sense of urgency to take hold.

Bold moves are required to disrupt and confront complacency. For example, a few years ago I was sitting in on a staff meeting of an IT organization that was actively being shopped to outsourcers. It was common knowledge that the “business” felt that the organization was unproductive and cost too much. The first thirty minutes of the meeting was a self-congratulatory presentation on the organization’s past successes.  When I discussed it afterwards with the CIO, his defense of the presentation was that he was trying to generate higher moral.  Side note: the IT organization did not measure productivity or cost per unit, therefore they had little understanding of whether they were efficiently spending the business’ money. Later that year I was told the IT organization had been outsourced and that out of approximately 5k people in the department, only 35 still had jobs.  Focusing on past successes and failing to transparently discuss hard truths allow complacency to throttle a sense of urgency.

Significant changes require significant effort. A sense of urgency which defines the need to change generates the energy needed to apply the effort and resources needed for change. Without a sense of urgency it will be difficult to generate buy-in amongst the management team in an organization.  Establishing a sense of urgency is the first stage of eight-stage process for creating major change.  It is an absolute requirement for a change of any significance, but it is not sufficient to complete the cycle of change.

You need to climb each stage to reach to top!

You need to climb each stage to reach to top!

 

We began exploring Leading Change by John P. Kotter by exploring the reasons organizational change fails. Chapter two explores successful change and the forces that drive successful change: an introduction to Kotter’s famous eight-stage process model and the role of leadership in change.

The eight-stage process for creating major change is a direct reflection of the eight common errors described in chapter one. The model describes a sequence of activities needed to generate, implement and then instantiate change within an organization. The eight steps are:

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

Each step in the model builds on the step before. Jumping into the model by communicating a vision and strategy with a power base and an organizational urgency is like putting the cart before the horse. The strategy and vison you are trying to communicate will not have the motivational power and would easily run out gas. When considering the stages in the model, recognize that Kotter conceived of the model as a sequence and that each step needs to be addressed.

Kotter talked briefly in the chapter about projects within projects. The idea is that most major changes are a reflection group of inter-related changes. An IT program is a group of related projects managed in a coordinated fashion. Any project can be starting or completing if we looked at a cross section of the program at any specific time. Similarly any individual change project following Kotter’s process within a larger group of changes will be at the stage need by that project.

The second major theme in this chapter is a discussion of leadership and the differences between leadership and management. Leadership provides vision and direction that are needed for building a powerbase for change and then to galvanize the organization into action. Almost by definition a leader conceives of a vision of the future and then acts as a catalyst to make that vision a reality. Leadership is transformational in nature. The difficulty is that many change programs are led by managers rather than leaders. Management is concerned with organizing, planning and controlling work. Almost by definition management is a tool to resist change. Management is important to the day-to-day activities, but without the vision of leadership there would be nothing to manage. Where leadership transforms, management translates.

While the dichotomy of leadership and management seems black and white, both are always required in any organization. As the rate of change increases (or at least as the need for the rate of change increases), the need for vision and leadership increases. Alternately during periods in were there is little pressure on firms business model, the need for managers and management tends to rise into ascendancy over the need for leadership. The late 40’s and 1950’s were such a period in the United States. That is not the environment that we find ourselves in today. Change is a fact of life. Kotter’s eight-stage process model provides a structure for applying leadership in consistent manner that identifies why change needs to occur, builds a base, delivers change and makes sure it sticks.