When Is The Change Journey Done?


Most organizations (and many individuals) undertaking major iStock_000011474136Small 2
change end their change journey way too early!


The simple answer is, improper planning. The root cause, however, is a little more complex.

Major changes in our organizations promise some very specific results. We will generate new market share, or penetrate new markets. We will strengthen customer loyalty and retention. We will increase the delivery of our charitable services to a significantly larger percentage of those in need of them. As a foundation, we will ensure the nonprofits we fund obtain the program results they promise when they apply for funding.

In our personal lives, the changes we undertake are often equally significant. We may plan on changing employers, or careers, to provide ourselves and our families a better life. We may choose to relocate for the same reason. We may enter into, or end, a long-term relationship, seeking “happily ever after.”

Whether organizational or personal, the reason these changes all-too-often fail to come to full fruition is that we confuse “installation” with “realization.”

Achieving the types of outcomes that large-scale changes promise is referred to as “realizing the benefits” of the change. It is the promise of realization that underlies the decision to move forward, to invest the necessary resources to make the change happen.

Then, the planning process begins. It may involve organizational design. New technology may be specified, or these days, a move away from local servers to the cloud. New software specs may need to be developed, and training scheduled. Perhaps there are new processes to be established and rolled out.

At the personal level, a similar path is taken; though there may not be a formal “plan,” we call out in our minds (or create a check list) of all the things that need to be put in place.

All too often, this is where we stop…and why our changes don’t deliver on their promises. We plan to install the components of the change, somehow believing that “if we build it, realization will come.” 

Planning cannot stop at installation. Nor should you plan to start working toward realization once installation is completed; doing so is more costly, and less likely to yield success.

Plan for realization from the outset. How do you and other leaders in the organization (or, at the personal level, you and others significant to the success of the change) have to think and act differently in order to achieve realization? How are you going to ensure those changes occur? What do you have to put in place to prepare the organization for the disruption that will occur during the transition? How will you effectively communicate both the “what” and the “how” of the change, the experience of the journey, and life in the future once realization is achieved? What is needed to ensure that the change progresses, that risks are surfaced early and mitigated, and that the integrity of the desired intent is maintained? Do you need to change some of the “foundation elements” that under-gird your organization (or personal life)? This might include things like changing compensation plans, how time is allocated, family budgets, etc.

The change journey isn’t done once the new system goes live, the merger is announced, or the honeymoon is over. A lot of work remains before the benefits can be fully realized. Don’t promise realization, and then fail to plan for it. You, and all those who bought into the promise, will be disappointed in the outcome.

What has been your experience with improper planning? What lessons have you learned? Please share them below.

Who Leaves When the Change Drags On?


iStock_000008318174SmallAll too often, the answer is, The wrong people keep leaving…the very people who can quickly adapt to the change, and can help you build the momentum that you need for the change to succeed. 

A few years after deregulation of the telephone industry I heard the following story. One of the old-line phone companies had not achieved the change results they were going for. They purportedly told a consulting firm, In the old days we were an elephant. We wanted to become a cheetah in the new marketplace; instead we have become an elephant on Slim Fast.  

Why does this happen?

The answer is quite simple. Change disrupts people’s lives. Drag it on, and they find themselves adrift in that turbulent, uncertain state. Some hope to wait it out. Some flounder. Some fight it. And some–those who are most capable of changing–take control of their own situations. They find jobs elsewhere.

If you are a mission-driven organization, and your most resilient people are aligned with your mission, they may not be quite as quick to “jump ship.” But even then, they will not tolerate the uncertainty forever. They will find another place to serve your mission, or find another mission they are passionate about supporting.

In either case, what you are left with as you continue to pursue your change is a workforce (and, in the case of nonprofits, possibly even a volunteer force) that becomes less and less capable of supporting your change effort.

What can you do about it?

First a disclaimer: your ability to take some of the following actions may be affected by legal and/or contractual constraints.

If the change is really that important, you don’t want it to drag on forever. Transformational changes can sometimes take years to deliver their promised benefits, especially in larger organizations. But even then, people will see an accelerating momentum as positive, and lagging momentum as a sign of potential failure.

So how do you launch the change and move it forward to keep the momentum going, and to keep the people who will help you do so?

  • Be clear about the intent of your change. You need a clear, complete, concise, and compelling expression of that intent.
  • Build leadership understanding, commitment, and alignment around that intent. Your leadership team sets the tone for the organization. If they are working at cross-purposes, or are not demonstrating full support for the change, it cannot move forward effectively.
  • Identify the “keepers.”  Here there are two things that are important to consider. First, who are those who are most resilient, most capable of making the changes that you are pursuing? Second, who are the people that either are now or most likely will be aligned with the new ways of thinking and behaving required by your change initiative?
  • Enlist people in the change: (Follow this link to read my post on enlisting people.) Your “keepers” should be among the early people whom you enlist.
  • Engage people in the change. If change is a disruption in a person’s expectations, then engaging them in it gives them back a sense of control. When engaging people, be clear about the parameters of the engagement. For example, “I am not asking you whether we should make this change. I do want your help in figuring out how we carry it out successfully in your area of the organization.”
  • Keep the change moving forward. Work it!: You don’t become an Olympian by going to the gym twice a week. You don’t succeed at major change by making it a part-time activity. You need to commit your “best and brightest.” You need to make it a focus of your own time, attention, and action as a leader. You need to move it forward as quickly as people can adapt to it. You need to take other things off the plate if they are draining resources (including, but not limited to, time, attention, and adaptation capacity). Don’t wait for consensus; major change doesn’t happen that way. Don’t wait for all the answers; they aren’t there. Don’t expect to get everything right, because you won’t; acknowledge and learn from the mistakes. Don’t expect everyone to get on board, because they won’t; the best thing you can do is to respectfully help those who won’t make the transition get out of the way.

    What has worked for you in keeping the right people on board during highly disruptive change? Comment below.

Track Your Path to Success (Personal Change)


All Hands Picture OnlyHow do you measure success? What are the milestones along the way that let you know that you are–or are not–making progress? In today’s blog I offer some guidance when facing a change that is personally oriented; next week we will look at the same question through the lens of an organizational change.

In What’s Your Story? (Part 2, Guidelines 1-5 for Writing Your Story) I spoke briefly about the distinction between “installation” and “realization.” Let’s briefly revisit those distinctions first. Throughout this post I will use the example of a major career change. You are leaving your financial services career on Wall Street to become an actor; it is a passion that has burned inside you as long as you remember, and you are going to make your dream come true.

Installation is achieved when things are put in place. Installation metrics may include getting accepted to acting school; submitting your resignation; commencing training; completing your training; being selected for your first part; and completing your first acting assignment.

Realization is achieved when the promise of the change is fully delivered. perhaps, for you, realization will be when you feel secure in your ability to support yourself as an actor…no more waiting tables, valet parking cars, or serving hors d’oeuvres at catered parties.

All too often, when we plan a major change for ourselves, we start with the passion that is in our heart as our desired future state, and then we plan as if installation will get us there. Unfortunately, installation only gets us installation; it doesn’t get us realization. Nor can you start thinking about “what else do I need to do” once you have achieved installation. It is important to plan on, and move toward, realization from the outset.

If it is a big change, start by thinking through and listing out all of the major adjustments you are going to have to make not only in what you do, but in how you think. Perhaps while on Wall Street the thinking was “eating out is convenient, and I can afford it.” It may still be just as convenient, but may be much less affordable as you work your way through acting school, auditions, and your early parts as an extra or a member of the chorus. So, not only will you have to change how you spend money, you most likely have to change how you think about money. You will also probably need to make changes in where you live; your wardrobe will most likely be different; how you spend your time–including both working and non-working time–will probably change, as might when you get up and when you go to bed. They call it “major change” for a reason!

What about the people in your life? The colleagues who used to drink martinis with you before dining may be less excited about downing a shot after the final curtain call. The friends who loved getting invited to your beach house may find they have less excitement about a picnic in the park. And the family that worked and sacrificed to help you and your siblings through college so you could have a better life…perhaps they will be less than enamored with your new-found enthusiasm for what they see as a less professional, less lucrative, and less secure career path.

We touched on this briefly in the post Anchors, Aweigh, but it bears repeating here. In planning a major change, you are going to have to consider those around you. What role do they play in your life now? What role do they need to play in the transition? What role will they need to play when you achieve your desired future state? Which ones will be the same, which ones will be different, and which people will you need to end your relationship with in order to succeed?

Once you’ve listed all of the changes in thinking and behavior you can come up with, grab some sticky notes and a pen or pencil. Put each one on a separate piece of paper, and put it up on the wall (or white board, or closet door, or window). You may want to use different colors for mindsets and behaviors, or for different aspects of the change (e.g. leaving the old job; redefining relationships with people).

Now you can begin to group these together. Use your story to help you think this part through.

Let’s go back to your intent. I feel secure in my ability to support myself as an actor! 

Begin by defining your realization indicators. What will make you feel secure? Be specific; be sure it is measurable. You may already have some among the sticky notes you have posted; you might need to develop others.

These may be some of your metrics.

  • I have $X in the bank, of which $Y has been made as an actor.
  • For the past 18 months I have had a positive cash flow, all of it as an actor.
  • I have re-framed my lifestyle so that I am comfortable, in fact feel like I belong, in my one bedroom apartment.
  • I am entertaining family and/or friends at home at least once a month.
  • Etc.

Once you have your realization indicators (on sticky notes on the wall), think through how they might group together. Perhaps you will end up with some that have to do with financial management, others with career development, and others with lifestyle.

Next, position them in a relative sequence. The first two of the bulleted indicators may be targeted for attainment near the end of the change, as you approach full realization. The third one you might decide to position earlier in the process.

Now think through your installation indicators. Again, many of these may come from the sticky notes you have already developed.  What do you have to put in place in order to achieve each of the realization indicators? For example, what will it take for you to move out of your three bedroom and feel comfortable in a one bedroom apartment?

  • I have identified the characteristics of a living space in which I can be comfortable (a more open plan vs. individual rooms, whether a view is needed, etc.).
  • I have pared down my positions so that I have what I can comfortably live with inside the new apartment.
  • I have a plan in place for ensuring that I don’t begin to clutter my space.
  • I have defined the type of neighborhood in which I will be comfortable.
  • I have found, leased, and moved into my new apartment.
  • Etc.

    Look at the sticky notes that you first put on the wall, and that have not become either realization or installation indicators. Ask yourself two questions.

  • Have I identified an indicator that this contributes to achieving?
  • If not, am I missing an indicator, or is this unnecessary?

You should end up with a series of “work streams” made up of installation and realization indicators.

Finally, review your work streams. If you achieve all of the indicators in each of the work streams, will you be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say, I feel secure in my ability to support myself as an actor. 

Keep a record of what you have on the wall. It will change over time. You don’t have all the answers now; you don’t even know all the questions. Things will change around you. So, your indicators will have to change as well. Nonetheless, you are well on your way to planning, and preparing to launch, a very big, and important, change in your life.

Have you ever planned a big change in your life? Do you use milestones to track your progress? Share your thoughts, experiences, and insights in the comments.