Saturday, January 7, 2017

Shifting Gears? Here Are 3 Simple Ways To Keep From Grinding To A Halt

Sounds of metal rubbing against metal make my spine twitch such as when gears are stripping if manual shifting isn't timed correctly. These are the sounds of a transition (or transmission) in trouble. The grinding noise that appears is a signal that something needs to change quickly. It's the grind that makes you take notice.

It's the grind that makes the difference

Though not immediately audible, similar "sounds" can be heard when stripping the gears of change during transitions of any kind. In business, 10 years of research from Professor John P. Kotter (1996) at Harvard Business School showed that over 70% of change initiatives fail. In life, annual statistics show that 92% of "change initiatives" in the form of New Year's Resolutions fail

Makes me wonder if we know what we're doing when it comes to change - even though change is the most consistent thing that we'll ever encounter.



Every year (or periodically) we revisit our personal lists and our business strategies to see if we hit the mark, made it into the ballpark, or missed the mark altogether. Statistically speaking we don't make it. There must be something wrong with our approach - so we tweak and begin again only to reap failure again the next time around.

So what's up with all of these transition failures? It just might have something to do with our understanding of change management - or the lack thereof.


"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

"The more things change, the more they stay the same"

                                                                    - Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1849)


Alphonse Karr is right, but we can change if we want

There's no disputing that our ability to change is linked to our motivation and our memory of why we want or need to change. In business, institutional memory can be a monumental constraint to overcome. In our personal lives, short-term memory can cause us to forget quickly why we started to change in the first place - especially if the change involves something uncomfortable (which it normally does). 

Alan Baddeley's memory model suggests that people can retain three (maybe four) items for about 20 seconds before short-term memory wipes clean - unless there is constant repetition.

Change management is people management

We tend to go about managing businesses as if they are "entities" separate and apart from people (SCOTUS got this wrong!). Until robots or artificial intelligence takes over businesses completely, this will never be the case. People are the key. Thus a fundamental understanding of how to get people to change is required. With failure rates so high, something tells me that we've been going about it all wrong.

For businesses, observation of 20th century change management models show complex processes that may take years to learn and perfect. Case studies reveal that it can take businesses up to 3 years to anchor change. In today's disruptive, "time-warped" markets taking too long can ruin a company. On the other hand, 21st century agile businesses can shift within a few hours to a few weeks.



For people, the turnaround time for change may be quick if the formula is right. Researchers have found that it takes on average 66 days (~8 weeks) for people to create new habits - ranging from 18 to 254 days until new habits become 95% automatic. With the understanding that people are the key in business entities, it makes sense to focus on people management rather than on complex change management processes. That is if the goal is rapid progress.

With the convergence of the average rate of change for people and agile businesses, are we now at a point where this synchronization can create even greater progress or more dramatic disruptions in our norms? Something to think about.



"The Power of Three"

If we accept Baddeley's memory model, then it's best to limit change management practices to three items so that the info can be remembered and internalized rapidly. Less is more. Add a sense of urgency to a few well-thought-out, energetic objectives and magic happens. Dare to delay and procrastination sets in negating the desired change. 

Here are three simple ways to anchor consistent, rapid, successful change - for people and for businesses:
  • [1] ENERGIZE - put your best self or best people in the driver's seat - trust them to create a compelling, innovative vision - include the "crazy ones"
  • [2] ENGAGE - begin at once and without hesitation - don't wait until all plans are complete - know your outcomes and success metrics
  • [3] EXECUTE - reward short-term gains to build momentum - measure results and adjust - prepare next wave - begin again


Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo...

About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things...

                                                                      - Rob Siltanen (1997) 


Lillian Gregory is a passionate advocate for 21st Century Leadership with special focus on Women in Leadership, Women in Technologyand US Veterans and Spouses. She provides research, strategies, tools, workshops, and events to help close leadership and career strategy gaps. Download your FREE eBook from The Institute for Human and Leadership Excellence and get ready to climb!

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