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Change Leadership Part 1 - The Greats Just Keep on Giving

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

Change is inevitable and employees expect leadership to help them through organizational changes. The way you do this will either build trust or drive great employees to begin hunting for a new job. To look at great managers of change throughout time, we decided to take a look at the world of music.

Can anything be much more endearing and enduring than Smokey Robinson’s music? For more than 50 years, as a producer, record executive and visionary, he was at the forefront of the Motown sound that took over the music world.

He was recently awarded The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song to celebrate his career and lifetime achievement in promoting song as a vehicle of musical expression and cultural understanding. He joins Stevie Wonder, Carole King, Paul Simon and just a few others given this honor.

Leading Change – Foundation Built on Classics

Two authors as important and relevant today as they were when they wrote these seminal books 20+ years ago are Daryl Conner and John Kotter. We have found their ideas applicable in our real-world change leadership work over the past 20 years.

Research showed that developing strong resiliency skills (the bounce-back factor) helped organizations succeed where others fail.

Change Failure Factors

John Kotter’s research shows there are eight change failure factors from which you must protect your organization. We’ve seen these factors sabotage so many important change efforts that we briefly discuss them here.

Allowing Too Much Complacency – People need to feel and deeply believe there is a sense of urgency to making the changes necessary to succeed in the very near future. Without the emotions to drive behavioral change, people wait. They wait for everyone else to make decisions, wait for others to initiate process changes, wait to be told what to do. They don’t need to actively sabotage anything – just waiting will often be enough to undermine potential success.

Failing to Create a Powerful Guiding Coalition - Leading from the top of the organization, while important, is not everything that is necessary. Change leaders identify those special people all throughout the organization who have influence far beyond job title. They actively recruit such people, spending the time necessary to be sure the motivating reasons for the change are well understood. This critical group of people will guide large numbers of others: if they buy in. If they don’t, the speed and energy needed to effectuate change will be absent.

Underestimating the Power of Vision – people need to see a future they can believe in, one they can decide to actively support. People need something powerful in which to place their trust, something important, something personal, something worth doing. Organizations that expect people to willingly move away from the processes and possibly the relationships that in the past/present have made them successful need to understand that the vision needs to have tremendous amounts of positive power behind it. There is powerful inertia and fear of loss to overcome. Powerful vision communication and buy-in must be a leadership priority.

Under communicating the Vision by a Factor of 10 or Even 100 – Related to the point made above, organizations often act like the efforts to publicize the vision, the initial efforts to communicate it, and routine efforts by leaders will transmit that vision sufficiently to do the job. It usually does not. Leaders focused on the change efforts seem to forget that most of the organization is trying to their regular work in addition to incorporating changing processes, technology, and relationships. Vision communication needs to be thought of like fuel. It is consumed and must be replenished continually and creatively in order to do the heavy lifting required.

We tackle Kottler’s other four factors in this follow up article: Change Leadership Part 2 - Failure Factors.

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