Change isn’t what it used to be, neither are our organizations nor the environments in which we work and compete.
Change is no longer a discreet organizational development concept: what are the structures, policies, and practices that need changing (mostly from the top) to accomplish our business goals?
Change is emergent: how do we systematically identify the needs, gather the insights, and prepare and empower our people at all levels to make it happen? Emergent change and our ability to respond to it must be cultivated as part of our cultures, core to the people we recruit and hire, intrinsic to how we develop and support our existing people, and strategically aligned with our business model.
Despite this reality, it seems that most of the “best-selling” approaches for leading or managing change make the concept seem formulaic and finite rather than dynamic and perpetual. They make it seem organizational rather than relational. Even as many of these models readily identify change as the only constant in our contemporary business environment, they often present solutions as if it were time bound and discreet.
One of the most popular is the Kotter Change Model, which defines an 8-step process for leading successful change: 1. Create a sense of urgency. 2. Build a powerful coalition. 3. Create a vision for change. 4. Communicate the vision. 5. Empower action by removing barriers. 6. Generate short-term wins. 7. Build on the change. 8. Make it stick.
I don’t actually disagree with any of this and totally understand how such a list makes a powerful product for those who are struggling to lead change. I wonder, however, if those struggling the most to lead change aren’t often the ones who need a deeper understanding of it. Yes, in most cases, you will need to take Kotter’s steps to achieve the change you want, but is that all it takes? I don’t think so.
You know what will kill your change process before you ever take that first step? 1. A lack of trust in leadership. 2. Poor relationships with and among our people. 3. Ineffective communication from the highest level of values and vision down to day-to-day operations.
Let’s consider some basic questions:
I think for most of us the answer is at least “not likely” for all of these – which undermines the first four steps in the 8-step change process!
So, while I appreciate the concise steps for change provided by Kotter’s model and others that are equally consumable, they mostly represent the tactical investments that live on the tail end of any real change process. They ignore foundational concepts of readiness. If I might adapt the old adage: “Change is 90% preparation, 10% perspiration.”
The 8-steps are mostly the perspiration.
As leaders, we have to be mindful every day and in every interaction of what kind of organization we are building. We have to understand our power to engage and influence our people, to share power with them, and to prepare them to help lead and navigate change with us. We must work daily to generate energy and ownership of our vision, strategies, and work with others.
As leaders, we have to be willing to do the immeasurable and un-measureable work of building trust, modeling strong relationships, and investing in culture. If we do this work, we, and our organizations, will be ready for change as it comes. It will just be part of how we do business.
Power is at the core of your organizational culture whether or not you accept or even recognize it. In fact, if you don’t accept or recognize it, it’s likely that you are the one benefiting from it. You’re “in power”.
Regardless of whether you do or not, I promise that others see it, and they see you through it.
So, the question is: are you the facilitator of a powerful culture or are you progenitor of a culture of power? Understanding the difference and how your people interpret your culture, and your position as a leader in it, will determine the nature and effectiveness (or not) of your leadership over the long term.
Here are a few distinctions that might help clarify:
A powerful culture believes in its people.
A culture of power believes in the system, structure, and organization.
A powerful culture grows power.
A culture of power consolidates and organizes it.
A powerful culture believes that knowledge and ideas are everywhere in your organization.
A culture of power believes that knowledge and ideas come from the top.
A powerful culture celebrates people at all levels.
A culture of power celebrates a select few.
A powerful culture focuses on relationships, responsibility, and accountability.
A culture of power focuses on accountability.
A powerful culture seeks transparency.
A culture of power keeps secrets.
A powerful culture communicates.
A culture of power distributes information.
In a powerful culture, our people feel a sense of ownership for their work.
In a culture of power, work feels directive and even compulsory.
In a powerful culture, there is joy.
In a culture of power, there is fear.
In a powerful culture, everyone feels responsible for leading and following.
In a culture of power, there are a few leaders and many followers.
In a powerful culture, everyone teaches and learns.
In a culture of power, some are teachers and others are learners.
In a powerful culture, leadership is emergent.
In a culture of power, leadership is constructed.
In a powerful culture, change is both bottom-up and top-down.
In a culture of power, change is top-down.
In a powerful culture, people naturally create.
In a culture of power, people wait for others “above them” to create.
In a powerful culture, people are proactive.
In a culture of power, people are reactive.
In a powerful culture, people seek truth.
In a culture of power, people seek affirmation.