Sooner or later, it is likely that every CEO will need to change the direction of their business. It may be plotting a totally new course, creating new avenues for growth, or eliminating old paradigms. Whatever the action, it is vital that you have a method, a toolkit if you prefer, for bringing change about.
Active Knowledge Questions:
How do you bring about effective change in your business, from the smallest to the largest of issues? Do you have a tested and proven approach that you have refined and tailored with your leadership team?
Change Is Certain
It would be great if every business was so used to change that it just occurred naturally. But those businesses are in the minority and, in most cases, the pursuit of efficiency leads many businesses to lock down processes, paradigms, structures and revenue streams. But change is inevitable and, in fact, desirable and necessary. So there will come a point at which the old needs to be dismantled and the new established.
As a leader, you need a clear methodology, a toolkit of sorts, which you can reach into and apply in bringing about change. Your approach will likely be the same no matter what degree of change you are pursuing but the intensity and duration will vary. Big changes will require a greater endurance in ensuring the change is accepted, adopted and sticks.
For change to be ‘sticky’ you want it to be received and adopted with anticipation and open arms. Basically, an audience that says, ‘Finally, we get to make this work well’, not ‘You’ve got to be kidding’. The last thing you want is a leader whose mentality is ‘I am the boss and I am telling you this is going to happen’. Because at that point you have lost leadership, have reverted to authority, and will battle every step of the way to make the changes occur.
I find there are seven tools that are vital in making change sticky in your business. And each tool has a role, an attribute, which it must satisfy if it is to play its part effectively:
- Image = Authentic
- Leaders = Trust
- Conversations = Engagement
- Words = Connection
- Motive = Righteous
- Actions = Empathy
- Principles = Guiding
Let’s look at each tool and the role it has to play in supporting change.
1. Image – Crafting a new image.
We all carry an image, often subconsciously, which tells us the way things are meant to be according to our worldview. Change will always be tested against that image and, if not validated, will be rejected. This image can empower or limit a person’s – and, therefore, a businesses – ability to achieve.
Is the change you are seeking consistent with the image people hold of the business? If not, your attempts to embed the change will not be considered authentic and will be rejected.
Change starts with re-writing the existing image, if necessary, to allow the change to be validated and considered authentic.
An existing image can be re-written and replaced with a new image through repetition. You just keep writing the new image over the old until the new image is the only one that exists. And, the bigger the change, the more likely the image will need to be replaced.
Additional reading – The Power of Seeing.
2. Leaders – Using centripetal leadership.
As a leader, you reside at the centre of your business community and seek to draw everyone into your centre in a unified and organised way. This is the power of centripetal leadership and, as your reach begins to extend to its limits, you appoint another worthy leader.
The strength of your leadership depends on the trust that resides in your leadership and the network of leaders, both formal and informal. If self-interest is rife, then it’s unlikely trust will exist, and leadership will only act on authority and not the power of trust.
Change will only be possible if leaders are trusted.
Additional reading – Choosing Worthy Leaders.
3. Conversations – Engagement around strategy.
To be competitive you need a unified team that gets the strategy that you are running, who understand how you intend to compete, and why this is and will be the winning approach.
In the context of change, all change, big and small, must occur within the scope of your strategy. Specifically, a strategy that is understood within your business. It is likely this strategy has played its part in creating the self-image of the business.
When you think of strategic planning you must think of conversations and engagement, with your team and the business as a whole. As you engage your business in a strategy conversation, a new language emerges. A language that is rich in images and metaphors that will carry significant meaning for your team and business.
It is this richness that creates the doorway for you to introduce change with an expectant audience.
Additional reading – How To Conduct Your Strategic Planning Workshop.
4. Words – Crafting the story.
The power of words should never be underestimated. Words can build and empower or breakdown and destroy. There is a story to be crafted about the change which is occurring, and that story must be consistent with the image and strategy that you have created. It is a story that reinforces how your business has chosen to compete.
A story of:
- Why your business exists (its purpose) and its visions and goals.
- How it connects with and meets its customers’ needs.
- The value it delivers to its customers and how it operates to deliver that value.
- What it does better than anyone else.
- Why it is a business worth working for, which, again, draws back into purpose.
It’s a story that directs the entire business, aligns all its resources and draws everyone’s focus to what is most important: how you have chosen to compete.
Additional reading – Crafting Your Competitive Story To Engage Employees’ Hearts and Minds.
5. Motive – Using the right motive.
Motive in business is, quite simply, the reason why you come to work each day and that reason cannot be to profit. And this motive extends to the reason for any changes that you want to bring about.
If you want change to be embraced then it must be ‘righteous’, in other words, for the right motive. A profit-first motive only seeds self-interest and will undermine any stickiness that change may carry.
Businesses exist to meet the needs of the community that they have chosen to serve and in that need is the purpose for which the business exists. If that purpose is correctly crafted, then motive will lie in pursuing that purpose.
Businesses exist to compete. They exist to deliver the greatest value they can to their customers. Change in pursuit of this goal typically carries the right motive.
Additional reading – Why A Profit-First Motive Is Just Bad Business.
6. Actions – Understanding the impact.
Your credibility and that of the changes that you are seeking to introduce are largely dependent upon the level of understanding and insight you exhibit in implementing the changes.
Have you actually thought through the impact the proposed changes will have on those you are expecting to undertake them, and others whom they will affect?
An understanding of who will be impacted, what the impact will be, what will need to change, how will it need to change, how may this occur, what flow-on effects there will be, and so the list of your considerations should continue.
If you have not carefully thought through the changes and their impact, the changes are likely to be readily discounted and ignored. Why would anyone take seriously something you clearly have not bothered to put the effort into understanding?
This is empathy at work, but also just good leadership.
Additional reading – Do It Right, Or Don’t Do It At All!
7. Principles – Establishing the simple guiding principles.
If you had to set them, what would the five guidelines that everyone in your business must refer to when answering the question, ‘What do I do in these circumstances?’
These are the simple guiding principles that reinforce a business’s competitive posture on a daily basis. And provide a continual recognition of the business’s competitive strategy to ensure its ongoing relevance, strength, and sustainability.
To reaffirm the change, it may be possible to include them in the simple guiding principles that guide key actions in your business.
Additional reading – The Power Of Simple Guiding Principles
Creating ‘Sticky’ Change
Changes will be embraced and stick if they are undertaken with the correct motive and with the tools that facilitate change:
- Craft a self-image that will validate and give authenticity to the change.
- Engage formal and informal worthy leaders who will lead the change through trust.
- Ensure your strategic conversations have provided the engagement that will open the door for change.
- Make sure your motive for introducing the change is righteous and consistent with purpose.
- Understand the impact of the changes on those affected and plan carefully with empathy and support in mind.
- Incorporate the changes in your simple guiding principles, if appropriate, to underpin the importance and role of the changes.
‘Sticky’ change is simply change that is accepted, adopted and becomes part of the norm. It’s what you want all change to be.
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All the best in the success of your business,