A Sense Of Urgency
Harvard Business Press, 196 pages, $27.95
Change The Way You Lead Change
David Herold and Donald Fedor
Stanford Business Books, 155 pages, $26.95
Whether you have read John Kotter’s classic Leading Change or not, it almost certainly has influenced how you lead your organization through change projects. The 1998 book analyzed the eight major reasons why change efforts stall or flop, and provided eight antidotes that in whole or in part have become part of modern change orthodoxy.
1. Establish a sense of urgency to beat back complacency: Examine the existing situation, and identify and discuss the crises, potential crises or major opportunities.
2. Create the guiding coalition: Put together a team with enough power to lead the change and get that group to work together like a team.
3. Develop a vision and strategy: Create a vision to direct the change effort and strategies for achieving that vision.
4. Communicate the change vision: Use every communication vehicle possible to constantly communicate the new vision and strategies, and have the guiding coalition demonstrate the behaviour expected of employees.
5. Empower employees for broad-based action: Remove obstacles from employees, and change systems or structures that undermine the change vision.
6. Generate short-term wins: Plan for visible improvement in performance that can serve as short-term wins; create those wins; and then recognize and reward staff who made those wins possible.
7. Consolidate gains and produce more change: Increased credibility from those wins must be used to change systems, structures and policies that don’t adequately fit the transformation vision.
8. Anchor new approaches in the culture: Create better performance through client-oriented and productivity-oriented behaviour, more and better leadership, and more effective management; articulate the connections between the new behaviours and organizational success; and develop means to ensure leadership development and succession.
Those eight steps were meant to work together, like a well-oiled machine, to avoid the dismal 70 percent failure figure Kotter found with change efforts. Over the years, however, he has inevitably been asked many times about which was the most important step. I would have predicted communicating the vision, since most leaders cite its importance and I have always remembered how Kotter vividly showed in the book how woeful leaders are in communicating change, comparing the average words employees receive on a change effort to the overall messages they receive at work.
But I was wrong. He picks A Sense of Urgency, as his latest book is named. “At the beginning of any effort to make changes of any magnitude, if a sense of urgency is not high enough and complacency is not low enough, everything else becomes so much more difficult. The difficulties add up to produce failure, pain, disappointment, and that distressing 70 percent figure,” he writes.
At a deeper level, he is preaching a sense of urgency not just as a prelude to major change projects; he sees it as a constant philosophy to run your organization, keeping yourself and your staff in a heightened sense of activism. At the same time, he stresses you won’t be effective if everyone is running madly off in all directions. Kotter calls that false urgency, which is as prevalent today as complacency, and even more insidious.
The Heart of Change, co-written by Kotter and Dan S. Cohen in 2002, highlighted the importance of moving beyond appeals to the intellect to touching the hearts of those you want to push change. He repeats that here: underlying a sense of urgency is a set of feelings. “When it comes to affecting behaviour,” he warns, “feelings are more influential than thoughts.” Beyond that, you must:
1. Bring the outside in: You need to expose people to the reality they are ignoring about what is happening outside the organization.
2. Behave with urgency every day: Leaders must not only talk of urgency but also display it every day in the way they act. The greatest enemy of urgency is a crowded appointments diary – most noticeably at the start of a project, when leaders proclaim change yet can’t find a time to get together to push it into action.
3. Find opportunity in crises: Don’t view crises solely as an enemy but view them as an opportunity to overcome complacency.
4. Deal with no-nos: It’s common to have people who pooh-pooh all efforts at change with the words, “no, no, you see…” NoNos are more than sceptics. They are always ready with ten reasons why the current situation is fine, digging in their heels against change, often persuading others to be complacent. You can’t ignore them or try to keep them outside the tent, because they can create mischief. Instead, you must distract them, for example with special assignments that divert them from the scene of the action; or you must push them outside the organization; or you must expose their behaviour and allow social pressure to handle the rest, as one woman did by inviting colleagues to write on a placard she placed on the desk of the unit’s NoNo.
Not everyone agrees, especially with the focus on urgency, and a new book challenges us to think beyond Kotter’s model. In Change The Way You Lead Change, Georgia Institute of Technology professor emeritus David Herold and organizational behaviour professor Donald Fedor present their own reasons why change efforts fail – seven of them – as a prelude to improving our record:
1. What was changed didn’t address the problem. Perhaps it was a cosmetic change, or a new technology or a restructuring that didn’t deal with the underlying issues or didn’t support the overall strategy.
2. The change addressed a wrong or non-existent problem, such as trying another restructuring when the basic strategy was not working.
3. The person leading the change was not up to the job. Perhaps he was not trusted, didn’t have the support of those involved, or lacked critical skills.
4. There was poor adaptation on the part of those expected to change their way. They lacked skills or motivation, were stubborn, didn’t fit the new requirements, or were fed up with change.
5. Events or factors inside the organization derailed the change. Cultural issues, inadequate processes, leadership turnover, or lack of time – among other factors – can hamper the effort.
6. Events or factors outside the organization derailed the change, such as a change in economic conditions or a change in government.
7. The process used to implement the change was flawed – poorly communicated, not sufficiently explained or supported, or not sensitive to the needs of those whose support was critical.
The authors combined those seven factors into four clear categories we need to address to make change successful:
1. The first two factors – failing to address the problem or addressing a wrong p