Whether it’s welcomed and exciting or the result of constant modernization or the effects of a global pandemic, change is certain, inevitable, and constant. In business, change can come in many forms like pivoting to new systems, policies, or processes; rightsizing or restructuring; and improving culture and clarity of vision. The stakes are high for companies that ignore the winds of change in markets, demand cycles, products, services, and globalization.
Whether it’s proactive or reactive, change is often a good thing––to improve current processes, to better support organizational objectives, and to help a company accomplish its mission. Regardless, change makes many people feel insecure, threatened, and fearful. A lack of clarity can fuel anger, confusion, and fear. And fears and insecurities, even when implicit or unconscious, can manifest in resistance, derailing even the best strategy.
We have the opportunity to approach change deliberately and lead employees through it more effectively. By understanding how people overcome “immunity to change,” we can plan our communication and execution strategies to mitigate fear-based frustration and lead a team to follow us confidently into a new reality.
We typically try to educate with information, but resistance to change often isn’t a knowledge problem. We must think about how to go from just sharing information with our teams to inspiring them to feel something. For example, if we want to improve customer service, we present them with the voice of an underserved customer in order to spark empathy. If we want to increase product-development innovation, we expose them to market competition in order to create a “burning platform” of necessity for change.
John Kotter, an organizational-change thought leader, says most people think change happens in the following progression:
- A careful analysis is presented…
- …which causes changed thinking…
- …which leads to behavioral change.
In Kotter’s experience, change almost never occurs that way. Rather, he defines the change model as SEE-FEEL-CHANGE:
- People SEE something…
- …that makes them FEEL something…
- …that gives them fuel to CHANGE.
It is easy for leaders to blame others or circumstances when change is resisted or poorly deployed. Too often, the true root of ineffective change is found in leaders who navigate change poorly. In his article, “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail” and subsequent
works on change, Kotter outlines an eight-stage process for changing a culture.
Kotter’s 8-step model can be used to build a plan to implement a critical change that is expected or that needs to take effect in the business in the near future. Missing any of these steps can erode trust, foster resistance, and cost the organization’s mission.
Trevor Smith, President of Maupin Travel and C12 Member, acquired a travel company and quickly noted the significant changes required for the company to grow and flourish. Injecting a new vision into an old business wasn’t going to be easy—watch to learn the key ingredient he led with and who they are today because of it.
Even when a change is necessary and good, the sequence and pace can be the difference between success and a mess. Change is emotional, so lack of clarity is akin to malpractice. We must be clear on both why “here” is not tolerable and why “there” is worth the “land between,” erring on the side of overcommunicating along the way.
What change will be required to keep our organization relevant and successful in our rapidly changing business environment?
Which of Kotter’s steps do I need to reinforce in my leadership through change?
John P. Kotter, “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” Harvard Business Review, January 2007, https://hbr.org/2007/01/leading-change-why-transformation-efforts-fail.