I recently read Professor John Kotter's acclaimed "Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions", which follows a colony of penguins as they encounter many obstacles in their efforts to implement change.
We all understand the importance of change in organisations, but sometimes we forget about the need to change. In fact, I can't think of many businesses that haven't changed in order to stay competitive and alive in the market - not any that are still around anyway! In our information age, where new technologies are leapfrogging the old with the blink of an eye, it's absolutely paramount to keep up.
The problem with implementing change is our natural resistance to deviate from the norm. Not only will we resist - particular individuals will go out of their way to stop change. This fear of the unknown and reluctance to take risks leading into the future is a major obstacle your business needs to overcome.
To help with overcoming the obstacles to change and successfully implementing a "change culture" in your business - Kotter has come up with 8 steps for leading change:
Step 1: Create Urgency
For change to happen, it helps if the whole company really wants it. Develop a sense of urgency around the need for change. This may help you spark the initial motivation to get things moving.
Step 2: Form a Powerful Coalition
Convince people that change is necessary. This often takes strong leadership and visible support from key people within your organisation. Managing change isn't enough - you have to lead it. You can find effective change leaders throughout your organisation - they don't necessarily follow the traditional company hierarchy. To lead change, you need to bring together a coalition, or team, of influential people whose power comes from a variety of sources, including job title, status, expertise, and political importance.
Step 3: Create a Vision for Change
When you first start thinking about change, there will probably be many great ideas and solutions floating around. Link these concepts to an overall vision that people can grasp easily and remember. A clear vision can help everyone understand why you're asking them to do something. When people see for themselves what you're trying to achieve, then the directives they are given tend to make more sense.
Step 4: Communicate the Vision
What you do with your vision after you create it will determine your success. Your message will probably have strong competition from other day-to-day communications within the company, so you need to communicate it frequently and powerfully and embed it within everything that you do. When you keep it fresh on everyone's minds, they'll remember it and respond to it.
Step 5: Remove Obstacles
If you follow these steps and reach this point in the change process, you've been talking about your vision and building buy-in from all levels of the organisation. Put in place the structure for change, and continually check for barriers to it. Removing obstacles can empower the people you need to execute your vision and it can help the change move forward.
Step 6: Create Short-term Wins
Nothing motivates more than success. Give your company a taste of victory early in the change process. Within a short time frame you'll want to have results that your staff can see. Without this, critics and negative thinkers might hurt your progress. Create short-term targets - not just one long-term goal.
Step 7: Build on the Change
Kotter argues that many change projects fail because victory is declared too early. Real change runs deep. Quick wins are only the beginning of what needs to be done to achieve long-term change. Launching one new product using a new system is great. But if you can launch 10 products, that means the new system is working. To reach that 10th success, you need to keep looking for improvements.
Step 8: Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture
Finally, to make any change stick, it should become part of the core of your organisation. Your corporate culture often determines what gets done, so the values behind your vision must show in day-to-day work.
For more information on Kotter's 8 Steps for leading change model - or to buy a copy of the book, visit: http://kotterinternational.com/kotterprinciples/our-iceberg-is-melting