Change that Sticks – Key Questions think about when Leading Change

In today’s fast-paced global economy, innovation is critical to an organization’s success. Industries like music, television and transportation have gone through huge disruptions in the way their products and services are consumed. Those who were unable to adjust to the new market reality along with those who thought that they were too well entrenched to be disrupted or too big to fail were eventually crushed by newer, more nimble competition. (Blockbuster video and Kodak come to mind.)

Just maintaining the status quo is really a recipe for disaster. While it is important to make sure operations run efficiently and effectively, that is not enough any more. (Blockbuster, I am sure, was really good at keeping track of its movie inventory.) We need to be driving change that not only addresses the complicated aspects of running our businesses but also helps our organizations develop the agility required to adjust to the changing and complex competitive landscape.

While all companies want to be successful, the real problem is that change is hard. Change is uncomfortable. Change initiatives don’t always end up as planned. Staying in your comfort zone feels safe (although it isn’t.) As we have seen, the problem is that what worked yesterday, may work tomorrow but may not work in six months or a year from now. We have to become comfortable with the uncomfortable and able to adapt to ensure we will remain competitive.

So we recognize that change is no longer a thing that is just nice to do but instead, it is a thing that we have to do to survive. We also recognize that change is hard and being a change agent can sometimes be hazardous to one’s health. I have compiled a list of things to know and do to become more effective change agents. Here are 7 questions you must ask to be a truly effective change champion:

    1. Understand company’s change appetite – How much change is your company willing to take on? This is especially important when working with senior leadership. Being able to paint a true picture of the long term goals, as well as the shorter term challenges will help ensure that leaders are fully prepared, and have the appetite for the change.
    2. Who wants the changes? – A good answer is the CEO. A better answer is the entire C-suite. You need to make sure that you have the right people on board who can help take the strategic lead on change initiatives. The change sponsor and biggest advocate needs to come from the senior leadership team. Without the full support of the senior team, any change initiative will struggle and likely fail.

    3. Who will resist the change? Equally as important, who in the organization will be fighting the changes? If it is someone on the senior management team, it will likely be an uphill battle. Resistors may be found at every level of the organization, from the most senior to the most junior. Understanding who is resistant, but more importantly why they are resistant will give you the opportunity to address concerns and if possible, change the resistors minds. Converting a resistor to a supporter makes converting those sitting on the fence much easier.

    4. What’s in it for me? People want to know why they should support the change and how it will impact them both positively and negatively. As with all changes, there will be some who will have to alter the way they work. In some cases, the change may significantly impact the way the company does business and even the size of the team. People need to understand how the change will benefit the organization and them personally.

    5. What is broken?/ Why does this need to happen now? – Having a good understanding for what is broken, why it is broken and why is fixing it is important to the long term success of the business. Equally important is why this change needs to happen now. Finally, how the changes proposed will fix the broken issue.

    6. What does success look like? – Managing expectations is critical, especially when it comes to how the change will impact the business. All stakeholders need to be on the same page when it comes to what the end goal is and what success looks like. This needs to be defined early on in the process and should be revisited regularly to ensure that the goals and/or expectations have not shifted.

    7. How are you going to spread the change and make it stick? Getting people on board and keeping them informed is critical for a successful change initiative. Three key recommendations here –
      • Find an evangelist. The evangelist needs to be someone who is respected by those who will be most impacted. Ideally, this person(s) will be a co-worker who has intimate knowledge of the current systems and can easily explain why the new way is better.
      • Develop a communications plan – communicate early, communicate often, communicate the why. Be transparent about progress as well as setbacks.
      • Train well – develop a solid training plan that addresses how the changes impact the employee and how they can be successful doing their job after the change.


    I’d love to hear your feedback and welcome further discussion on this. Please share your methods for leading effective change.