On Leading Change During A Company Transformation

On Leading Change During A Company Transformation

The fastest an aircraft carrier can make U-turn is in approximately 3 minutes.  At this aggressive rate, unsecured equipment and people on deck will roll into the sea.  A small speedboat can make a U-turn in a matter of seconds and, while passengers and equipment might tilt to the side, they will remain in place.  If companies were boats, one would think a small company could reverse or change directions more quickly and with less disruption than a large company.  As the leader of a 25-person company, the size of a speedboat relative to major FORTUNE 500 companies, I have learned my company changes course more like an aircraft carrier.  I used to think we could implement changes like a speedboat, but now I realize that size is irrelevant, as leading organizational change requires a slower, more deliberate process and effective communication.

Leading change is difficult, and I learned this again when I recently tweaked a reporting process.  The new reporting process failed initially because I miscalculated people’s resistance.  While everyone seemed onboard, they still did not know how to utilize the system and did not fully trust it.  I failed to address their concerns, take time to train them and provide positive feedback when they used it appropriately.  I conceptualized the idea, put it into place, explained it to everyone and expected it to take off.  Then, one day, the report produced inaccurate information.  I had to go back to the beginning.

To help me learn what happened and how to implement the new process effectively, I referred to Leading Change by John Kotter.  Kotter outlines 8 phases of leading change with specific actions to take and pitfalls to avoid.  These 8 stages include:

  1. Establish a Sense of Urgency
  2. Form a Powerful Coalition – (I was the coalition and failed to get other people on board.)
  3. Create a Vision – (I was so confident in it, nobody questioned me.)
  4. Communicate the Vision
  5. Empower Others to Act – (I did not remove old reports and address resistance.)
  6. Create Short-Term Wins – (Failed here too!)
  7. Consolidate Improvements and Produce More Change
  8. Institutionalize New Approaches (We finally arrived here after I went through the phases.)

Whether you’re implementing changes yourself, changes from your boss, or changes from your company, remember that the people are the most important part.

Take time to engage them and follow John Kotter’s phases.  You can either read his book, Leading Change, or a summary from “Harvard Business Review” at https://hbr.org/1995/05/leading-change-why-transformation-efforts-fail-2.