Certain kinds of changes are easier to make than others; increasing and decreasing budgets, maintaining strategic alliances, completing a merger, and so on. Although sometimes necessary, these bold strokes do not create sustainable change in your organization; it is, in the words of Jim Collins, your 20-mile march that creates sustainable change. And a healthy 20-mile march requires a clear vision.
Long-term, effective organizational transformation requires your team to adjust their behavior. You cannot order people to use their imagination to solve the budget crunch or to work collaboratively with other members on the team, in the department, or within cross-departmental problem-solving teams. You can attempt to change their behavior, but you will be more successful when you articulate a clear vision for your company.
The Heath brothers came out with a watershed, thought-provoking book; Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (Broadway Books, 2010). According to Switch, the main obstruction to change is often in how we perceive a situation, not whether or not we can formulate a good solution or even carry out the actions needed to solve challenges and problems. They reveal countless examples of how everyday people harnessed the strength of both influences to create transformative change. You, too, can change how your team perceives a situation with a clear vision or BHAG.
Additionally, according to John Kotter, author of “On Leading Change” (Jossey-Bass, 2002), there are seven classic techniques that leaders can bring to a changing organization. These are techniques that can help a team move toward your vision. They are:
1. Tune in to the environment. Create a network of listening posts, such as partnerships and alliances that allow you to gather and share information. In a team you might apply this as a no agenda meeting … a chance for you to just listen. This is often effective over lunch or coffee.
2. Challenge prevailing organizational wisdom. Use what is called “kaleidoscope" thinking, a way of constructing patterns from fragments of data available and manipulating them to form different patterns. Can you look at all of the available information and consider it in a new way? This is where creative thinking techniques help.
3. Communicate a compelling aspiration. Changing anything requires a strong and genuine conviction; make sure the objective is clearly (and often) communicated.
4. Building Coalitions. Recruit the involvement of people who have the resources, knowledge and political clout to make things happen. In small teams or companies, the coalition can break down resistance.
5. Transfer ownership to a working team. Once your coalition is in place, you can enlist others in the implementation. As a leader, you must remain involved, and don’t expect your managers to take over all of the proceedings for the vision.
6. Learn to persevere. Everything can look like a failure in the middle. One of the major mistakes that leaders can make is to launch plans and then leave them. Stay with your crew.
7. Make everyone a hero. Recognition brings the change cycle to its logical conclusion and also motivates people to attempt change again.
Many companies are approaching annual planning, and annual plans often produce a grand vision. Your challenge is to interpret the vision and translate it into transforming language. Take these two steps to get started:
1. Think of one major change that you are undertaking right now. How might you link this to your company vision? If major, should you create a mini-vision? For either, how can you convey this compelling vision to the eyes, ears, hearts, and minds of your team?
2. Use key stakeholders to transfer your vision. Write down ways to garner support of other leaders in your company and utilize their influence to spread the company vision. Have each include the vision in meetings with their teams and discuss how they might support the vision.
These techniques are effective in facilitating change within organizations and are key to sustaining high performance. Managing change as a leader is a challenging process – no matter your level of current success. Take these first two steps to transform your vision and energize your team.