Leadership: Change or Die

Written by BCCJ
June 30, 2017

Written by BCCJ
June 30, 2017

On June 28th, BCCJ members attended the popular Toolbox event, “Managing Change in a Complex Environment” with guest speaker Miriam Mulcahy, a board level advisor with a track record in adapting strategy, business models and organisations to digital channels, and driving positive change in resistant and challenging environments.

Change or die

Mulcahy opened the session with a striking message: “Change or Die”. A question originally posed by Alan Deutschman in his book of the same title, Deutschman concluded that although we all have the ability to change our behaviour, we rarely ever do.

From patients suffering from heart disease to repeat offenders in the criminal justice system to companies trapped in stagnant and unsuccessful business practices, many of us could prevent ominous outcomes by simply changing our mindset.

“You appear dangerous to people when you question their values, or habits of a lifetime, and you place yourself on the line when you tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear,” said Mulcahy. Quoting Heifetz and Linksy, she added, “although you may see with clarity and passion a promising future of progress and gain, people will see with equal passion the losses you are asking them to sustain.”

Driving Change

Mulcahy continued to explain that there are forces driving change and forces restraining it. “Where there is equilibrium between the two sets of forces there will be no change. In order for change to occur the driving force must exceed the restraining force, something elaborated upon by the German-American psychologist, Kurt Lewin.”

The speaker highlighted the internal factors that drive change, which she said were more difficult to follow for employees including the desire to increase profitability; the need for reorganisation that leads to an increase in efficiency; and the need and desire to change organisational culture. External factors that drive change include customer demand; competition; cost of inputs; legislation & taxes; political ethics & social values; technological change.

Eight steps to Successful Change

Answering questions from members, Mulcahy highlighted the work of Dr. John Kotter, who for over four decades observed countless leaders and organisations as they tried to transform or execute their strategies. Mulcahy explained that Kotter identified and extracted the success factors and combined them into a methodology, the award-winning 8-Step Process for Leading Change:

1) Create a sense of urgency
“Help others see the need for change through a bold, aspirational opportunity statement that communicates the importance of acting immediately.” Mulcahy explained that without motivation, people won’t help and the effort goes nowhere. How can urgency levels be inreased? The speaker gave examples such as manufacturing a crisis. “One example is a CEO deliberately engineering the largest accounting loss in the company’s history, creating huge pressures from Wall Street in the process. Or a division president commissioning the first-ever customer-satisfaction surveys, knowing full well that the results would be terrible and making the findings public. On the surface, such moves can look unduly risky, but there is also risk in playing it too safe: when the urgency rate is not pumped up enough, the transformation process cannot succeed and the long-term future of the organisation is put in jeopardy.”

2) Build a guiding coalition
“Leaders can’t implement new strategies on their own. It takes a guiding coalition. That coalition—a powerful, enthusiastic team of volunteers from across an organisation—is a crucial tool for leaders looking to put new strategies into effect and transform their organisations. And deciding who should take part in the guiding coalition is essential.”

3) Form a strategic vision and initiatives
“If you are part of an organisation that is trying to drive a large change, whether that’s implementing a new IT system or moving to a new market strategy, you need to have a ‘change vision’. This is a picture for people of what the organisation will look like after they have made significant changes, and it also shows them the opportunities they can take advantage of once they do that. It serves to motivate people, and it’s essential to any successful change you’re trying to make.”

“When senior leaders communicate the change vision effectively, they and the guiding coalition promote organisational understanding and it establishes a foundation for gaining the commitment from employees and managers to embrace the new direction. They effectively capture both the minds and hearts of the employees and managers that are needed for the change. Through effective communication, these important stakeholders not only understand the reasons for the change but they also agree with it and are committed to making it happen.”

4) Enlist a volunteer army
Large-scale change can only occur when massive numbers of people rally around a common opportunity.
They must be bought-in and urgent to drive change – moving in the same direction.

5) Enable action by removing barriers
Removing barriers such as inefficient processes and hierarchies provides the freedom necessary to work across silos and generate real impact.

6) Generate short-term wins
According to Kotter, a short-term success is a milestone or event that the entire team would agree is “huge” and contributes to the fruition of the change vision. “Generating short-term wins is necessary to prevent the loss of momentum and keep the organisation engaged. In reality, implementing major change takes time. Senior leaders and the guiding coalition use short-term wins (6-18 months) to eliminate organisational discouragement with the slow pace of lasting major change. Short-term wins also derail cynics and self interested resisters of change as the wins provide real evidence about the validity of the change vision,” Mulcahy explained.

7) Sustain acceleration
Press harder after the first successes. Your increasing credibility can improve systems, structures and policies. Be relentless with initiating change after change until the vision is a reality.

8) Institute change
Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organisational success, making sure they continue until they become strong enough to replace old habits.

Resistance Management

“Much resistance to change can be avoided if effective change management is applied on the project from the very beginning. While resistance is the normal human reaction in times of change, good change management can mitigate much of this resistance. Capturing and leveraging the passion and positive emotion surrounding a change can many times prevent resistance from occurring—this is the power of utilising structured change management from the initiation of a project.”

Mulcahy discussed some different techniques that can be used for restistance management:

– Listen and understand objections
– Focus on the “what” and let go of the “how”
– Provide simple, clear choices and consequences
– Create hope
– Show the benefits in a real and tangible way
– Make a personal appeal
– Convert the strongest dissenters
– Use money or power
– Create a sacrifice

In conclusion, Mulcahy highlighted the points one should be aware of when navigating change:

“Use the change as an opportunity for self-growth. Ask yourself ‘what did I like about this posting? What situations do I never want to encounter again?’. Use the situation to reinvent yourself. For instance, if you were a bad timekeeper in your previous job, it doesn’t have to continue. Make a fresh start! Remember the change is not all about you … your partner, children, previous employer, potential employers are all stakeholders in your next move. And finally, beware of stress – it can creep up on you – moving jobs, country, house, schools all in one go put your mental health at risk.

As Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, but the ones that are responsive to change.”