As long as you’re speaking of change in a vague way, people are all on board. We saw proof of this when President Obama was running for the highest office in the United States. His entire campaign was centered around change. Sides begin to form though once changes become specific. Up until then, everyone loved the thought of change. Lines quickly became drawn when his idea of change didn’t match up with what others had in mind.
When implementing change, it’s sexy to shake everything up, change everything all at once, and make a statement to everyone through the new policies that this is the way things are going to be from now on. But sexy isn’t always healthy.
At the time of this post, my youngest son, Micah, is four months old. He has been feeding off of milk for his entire life. My wife and I know that he will eventually be able to enjoy the pleasures of juicy steak, hearty chili, and delicious hot wings, but it would be ridiculous and certainly detrimental to his health to start feeding them to him now.
His doctor wants us to start feeding him baby food. So today, I broke out the finely pureed green beans. He hated it at first! In order to get him to eat, I had to give a small spoonful of green beans, then wash it down with the all familiar milk. Over time, Micah’s meals will get more variety and the textures more solid.
If this method makes sense for introducing change in a baby, then what about your organization?
Transitions are a very healthy way to implement lasting change. Think of them as baby steps. While there are some great things to be said about starting with a clean slate, and I’ve used that approach before, there are plenty of benefits to be found in taking baby steps.
- There are clear steps to the finish line. Everyone knows what is expected out of them at each phase of the plan, allowing for things to flow much smoother than if you had no plan. As a result, you know when you’re heading in the right direction and what constitutes a “win” for you and your organization.
- Your plan can be adjusted during implementation. Every plan has its bugs that need to be worked out. When change happens incrementally, it allows you time to think through your decision, received input from others on the team, identify the plan’s flaws, and adjust the plan on the fly.
- Slow change still allows for some familiarity. Veterans of organizations tend to be the slowest to adopt new changes. Each has found some source of comfort in certain characteristics of the organization. In order to embrace change, they must still be able to hold onto some since of familiarity, even if only for a short season. If change is implemented to quickly, especially in the area where they have found comfort, you will only villainies yourself in their eyes. Your goal is to get them on board with your vision.
- Slow change allows time for the indirectly affected parts to adjust. Think through your potential decision for a moment. Who will it immediately impact? Then who? We are often good at allowing time for those who report directly to us to adjust, but what about those in the third and fourth rings of leadership. Change in an organization is like dropping a stone in a calm pond. Ripples (plural) eventually spread throughout the entire pond. It touches everyone and everything at some point. Taking things slow allow even those who are indirectly impacted to adjust.
- Change becomes part of your culture. The last thing you want change to become in your organization is an event. You should be constantly trying to improve. Planning for transitions allows change to be an ever present part of your organization. It sends the message that no strategy is sacred. The vision at all costs!