Rising to the change challenge
We each inherently understand making ourselves indispensable in times of change can be difficult. Where the degree of difficultly depends on the nature and magnitude of change. Interestingly positive changes can be as challenging to work through as negative ones. For instance, getting married or deciding to live together is something we choose at some point in our lives. The challenging changes that come with this decision include adapting to coupledom, a change in personal space, establishing new routines, and so on. Of course, there are many other aspects to such changes. For instance companionship, more communication, mutual support, and so on. The challenge for each of us is adapting to any change and doing so well.
The same theory holds in a professional context, where we may be asked to establish a new team, transform an operational function, or restructure a company.
Can we rise to the change by simply finding the right motivation or by creating a vivid tableau of what we want, to show us the way? I will share my view on why these approaches don’t typically work.
Motivation or vivid imagination alone is not enough
Let’s start with motivation, it occurs in one of two ways (internally or externally), however, both are intrinsic to ourselves. This means that only we can find and call upon the desire to behave in a certain way. No one else can motivate us; only we can set the conditions for releasing our personal motivation.
Now let’s tackle the vivid tableau approach. Having a dream is also not enough, it is akin to wishing upon a star. As interesting as it may be to try to boil the ocean (by focusing on the tableau), we will just burn ourselves out. Dragging ourselves to bed tired, irritable, and feeling unfulfilled. It will take more than a dream to succeed.
Basically there is no one-size approach that will work for everyone. Motivation is a personal thing – for some, it’s found in purpose or fulfillment. and in others, it will be found in the carrot and stick approach (e.g.: money).
The secret to unlocking long-lasting change is to set the conditions or environment for those behaviours to occur.
Managing change a better way
If we consider a change in a professional context, let’s say adopting an intelligent digitized finance system. Large-scale change starts at the top, period! Think about it: if the executive (CFO in our example) is not supportive of the digital change he/she wants to see, then who in their right mind will even attempt to drive significant changes? You can already imagine the resistance that would emerge, absent top-down sponsorship.
Change starts with a well-thought plan and succeeds or fails from the execution of that plan. It, of course, requires many more things but we will focus here on this aspect of execution.
Making yourself indispensable in change initiatives
So, what small, yet critical, steps can you take when driving change projects?
There are three steps or actions:
- Hold project meetings with purpose
- Establish boundaries and expectations
- Disciplined follow up
Returning to our digital transformation example and looking at each step individually to illustrate:
Purpose: We would establish the purpose of meetings up-front, for instance, is the meeting to inform others? To make a decision? Seek input? Brainstorm design ideas? By being clear on the meeting purpose, we get the right people in the room and they come prepared.
Boundaries: We establish mandatory meetings at a consistent recurring time allowing attendees to plan their response. In theory, an attendee can either (1) attend in person; (2) connect remotely, or (3) not attend. This means that attendees cannot hide behind their choices, accountability is a powerful motivator for many.
Expectations: We outline the expectations of attendees in terms of participation, meeting etiquette, rules of communication (e.g.: listening), quorum requirements for decision making, and progress reports. By setting expectations, we achieve desired outcomes quicker and better.
Follow up: Meeting minutes are produced and published within a short period of time. They capture, assign and track action items. Follow-up meeting dates are set before the current meeting ends. This embeds a philosophy of accountability, which becomes effective when it is actively enforced. Some simple accountability steps include:
- Creating an owner and due date for action items
- Link action items to purpose and project goals (this helps with owners feeling engaged and valued)
In making ourselves indispensable in change, big or small, we are wise to remember the words of Carl Gustav Jung.
“You are what you do, not what you say you will do.”Carl Gustav Jung
To make ourselves indispensable change agents, we must do what we say we’re going to do. If we do not deliver, we will do nothing more than:
Erode credibility. A failure to do what we say we will decreases credibility. Done enough, after a promise we make we will leave others with a question mark about our “word”.
Build distrust. Trust is built through many small consistent actions. As my mother once said: “trust once eroded takes much more effort to rebuild than the effort needed to retain it”.
Limit opportunity. When we fail to follow through on our commitments or promises, we derail our own careers. When our team cannot count on us, that reputation quickly gets around.
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