There’s no shortage of wisdom out there on leading change. If you’ve ever lived through a major one, you know it can feel a lot like having a baby. There may be pain. Tears. A desire to pass out. And the occasional shouting of obscenities.
Having a baby represents enormous change. There is a clear before and after.
But the big difference (OK – technically there are 7 million differences but hang with my analogy here) is that once we put that baby into the world, we effectively nurture it forever. How we nurture will evolve – from prenatal vitamins to car seats to helmets to mending broken hearts to college savings… But if we nurture is never a question.
Yet that same logic tends not to follow in the face of organizational change.
Much of the wisdom out there focuses on the organizational equivalent of prenatal vitamins…and a little bit on the car seats.
We as leaders tend to invest heavily in the preparation – we do the things we can do ahead of the change to set it up for success.
We build a case – tell a story with a compelling “why.” We build communication plans, we connect with our stakeholders, we put out FAQ’s – we do all the things to nurture the change before it’s born.
We have every intention of maintaining this level of engagement and connection with our teams post change. But not long after the switch is flipped, there are millions of things calling for our attention – fires to be put out. And focusing on engagement - on keeping our fingers on the pulse of how it’s going, where there’s low-hanging fruit we can grab, where there are questions or concerns - just doesn’t always top the to-do list.
We’re all super busy. There’s no judgment here. It’s just a reality. The change quickly becomes the new normal.
The problem with that? It puts us in a not-so-virtuous cycle of needing to continually organizationally change.
Massive change – while a necessary part of how business is done today – is a drain both financially and emotionally. Huge investments are required to design, execute and support massive org changes. And people – even champions of the change – can feel exhaustion, overwhelm, and sometimes survivors’ guilt (in the face of reductions).
The goal isn’t to avoid change. It is, however, to create as much time and space as we can between massive changes by focusing on learning as we go. This allows for ongoing thoughtful evolution over massive discrete change.
The better the job we do as leaders at continuing to nurture that change beyond the baby phase – the more we invest in creating forums in which people can discuss, debate, ask questions and share ideas; the more we do pulse checks to see how our teams are faring during – not after the change; the more we invite incremental innovation, and create connectivity across newly formed or organized teams, the more agile we become. The more able we are to evolve continuously in line with customer and market demands.
The more regularly we evolve, the less regularly we need to “Capital C” Change.
The investment of time required for this evolutionary approach need not be significant. Creating any increment of mindful time and space dedicated to connecting, listening, and participating in dialog with our teams is a leadership choice worth making.
When we launch a change, imperfections will arise – things will go not according to plan. By staying engaged – in regular conversations – with our teams, we can spot these small breaks and misses – and repair and course correct – before they become giant breaks and misses.
By staying connected with our teams throughout the settling of a change, we maintain engagement, we mitigate attrition, we spot unseen opportunities – we give ourselves the chance to maximize the ROI on that change.
So leaders. How does that stand up as a business case for carving out the time to nurture the change?