Achieving change that sticks

In business, most of us have been cautioned at some point that, “if you’re not moving forwards you’re actually going backwards.” In essence, this cuts to the core of why change is so essential to positive and healthy business.

Change is the process of becoming different. Change is the central element of growth and it requires vision, a driving team and a tight context to be delivered positively. It is the domain of leaders.

On the other hand, consistency, which may apply to product, quality, profit or even, to some degree, organic growth, is a different objective. It is the domain of managers.
Considering these two side by side, it is not hard to see why consistency and change (indeed managers and leaders) are often challenging to tie together.

In the next three editions, we will explore how leaders effect change in three specific circumstances, being:

- New business (start-up);
- Stressed business (turnaround); and
- Owner’s exit (including succession)

Before we begin that journey, however, let us explore the central elements of great leadership and how they work together to effect positive and sustainable change.

The #1 secret for achieving change

The #1 secret for achieving change is that there is no secret for achieving change! Indeed, achieving change in itself is quite easy, as our political leaders show us time after time!
The real challenge in achieving change is achieving change that is both positive and sustainable: taking steps to ensure these occur is the art of great leadership. It may also be the difference between business success and failure.

As a professional leader, the formula I use to deliver change involves a simple four-step process that I highly recommend! Here it is:

Step 1 – Ask the tough questions

I sometimes wonder whether it is harder to know where you are really starting from or where you are specifically trying to get!

As business owners and entrepreneurs, we often fall into the trap of looking at the world through tinted glasses and fail to truthfully appreciate where we are starting from - our ‘point A’.

Recognising your real Point A is tough stuff: it is only achieved by having the courage to identify, ask and then truthfully answer all of the in-your-face questions that relate to your business, your strategy and how you are moving towards it. You know the questions; they are the same ones you typically stumble over when they hit you without warning at a dinner party!

My tip – pull on your thickest skin, get someone else to identify and ask the questions that need to be asked… and don’t let your ego rob you of the truthful introspection that should follow. It may make the difference between your success and failure.

Step 2 – Feel the reason

Identifying both the specifics or your ‘change vision’ (your “Point B’) and also the specifics of your whole-hearted-reason-for-change is also tough. If there is a #1 secret for achieving positive and sustainable change, however, this is it.

Without specifics, your vision is just a dream. Without a deep and authentic reason as to why you wish to pursue your vision, you will struggle to move people towards it. People need to share your passion. You must be able to move your team to move your team.
The good news is, those colleagues who do share and then embrace your vision will stick with you and become the driving force for delivering it. This is why great leaders know the carrot is mightier than the stick.

My tip – recognise the types of people you need to drive your change vision. Take some time to identify specifically who they might be and then what it is about your vision that might move them.

Step 3 – Develop a simple plan

From here on, the key elements of your success are sticking to what works, keeping it simple… and continuing to fuel the passion that binds your driving team to your vision.
Having clarified your ‘why’, allocating uninterrupted thinking time to identifying the key components of your ‘how’ is critical.

My tip - try to involve your driving team in this process:
- Identify the repeatable tasks that will achieve your objective (keep these simple)
- Identify both the resources you have available and the resources you will need (actually need!)
- Identify the finite list of things that could block your progress. Develop contingency plans for any that are legitimately risky

Step 4 – Achieve positive & sustainable change

Keeping on track and achieving positive and sustainable change is a 99% leadership and 1% management mixture of fuel, context and accountability.

The fuel component is PR in its purest form. Its purpose is to build and then maintain momentum: communicate the vision, teach the simple, repeatable steps, celebrate successes... and ultimately teach your driving team to do the same things each reinforce that the change vision is valid and that the team’s approach is the right one.

Importantly, as leader, the code of conduct or ‘context’ you establish around your team and its behaviour is central to their ability to stick together and achieve results. Your team will look to you to uphold this code at all times and when you do it will begin to take a life and power of its own.

This is where keeping on track and achieving positive and sustainable change requires your personal commitment, courage and discipline: being consistent with the message you preach and connecting with your team in an authentic way when delivering it is important.

Your ability to create and maintain a strong context is directly proportional to your ability to do these things, and with a strong context your team will self regulate; self align; move mountains; and deliver the positive and sustainable changes you seek.

My tip – Take a deep breath and be prepared to be human, to concede error and to be open to change yourself. You will be respected and followed as a leader in a far more powerful manner when you have the courage to do these things.

Related Articles