5 Steps to Leading Change

In this article on the theme of change at work, let me invite you to become a change agent – or better yet a change champion! A change role model! And to that effect, here is a simple model: it's called SHIFT ™ and you can use it to take others on an exciting rather…

In this article on the theme of change at work, let me invite you to become a change agent – or better yet a change champion! A change role model! And to that effect, here is a simple model: it's called SHIFT ™ and you can use it to take others on an exciting rather than painful change journey.

If you struggle with change yourself, let me invite you to read the companion article entitled “4 Steps to Embrace Change” which introduces the VEER ™ model, a 4-step process to assist you with coping constructively with change so it's not so draining, either mentally and physically.

But on to the SHIFT ™ model which has five steps as follows:

'S' is for 'Situation'

The first reaction to change is usually negative and people need to understand the rationale for change if they are to embrace it and contribute to it rather than resist it. So your role as change leader is to make the case for change and win hearts and minds.

Let me suggest to you that the largest question you need to tackle when making the case for change is not 'what' but rather 'why' and particularly 'why now'. What I have observed is that folks will get the ratione for change – what it is and why it would be a good thing – but many will ask 'why now?' . There is often so much going on that, for many, change is an unwelcome disruption and, even if they can see its benefits, they would rather postpone it if possible.

So, as you explain the situation which warrants a change, seek to create a sense of urgency : emphasize the crisis which needs quick resolution, or the opportunity which needs a rapid response. That situation can not be 'business as usual'. It's here and now. Show them a window closing fast.

'H' is for 'Hooking Up'

No matter how enthusiastic and no matter how powerful the case for change, resistance to change requires repetition and effort on the part of the change champion. So assemble your change team . Identify individuals who understand and support the change but can also contribute to refining and rolling out the change. It may make sense to select people who have complementary skills to yours, or who have a following they can sell the change to.

These folks will act as both doers and communicators. Communication-wise, if they are your direct reports, they will relay your message across the layers of your team. If you are the originator of change, you will need ambassadors who will address some of the constituencies with which you are less visible.

As doers, they will manage and oversee the execution of change . There wil be obstacles – in folks' minds but also of a more structural nature – to change and so a lot of action, action-planning and then action-doing, will be required to put in place the change, typically in a step-by-step approach.

'I' is for 'Inspire'

One of the words most commonly associated to 'change' is 'vision' and so you may find it odd that it has not come up earlier. But that is because one of the pitfalls of change is the risk of rushing to share the vision . If the ground has not been prepared with a sense of urgency around a situation demanding a response or you have not built around you a team which will support your change leadership, you could well be crippling your vision for change.

If your audience is not ready to listen to a change proposal because they have no sense of urgency, your vision could fall on deaf ears and all your passion would go to waste. Similarly, your vision may need adjusting – to cater to the needs of many and have a great chance of winning over a large majority: your team can help with both articulating your vision as well as communicating it in a variety of ways to a variety of constituencies.

So inspire by creating a vision, communicating the vision but also by removing obstacles to your change vision – psychological obstacles but also obstacles in the forms of processes and systems – that will otherwise seriously underestimate the credibility of your vision for change. As part of your inspiring vision, encourage 'out of the box' thinking and experimenting.

'F' is for 'Fast'

A lot of change initiatives take months to complete which creates the risk that individuals will disengage as time passes and no sign of change is visible. So move fast by both planning and delivering 'quick wins' . This may be challenging and require some imagination but 'quick wins' are critical in my experience. First, they make the change tangible : they give people something to see, to talk about – and therefore to hang on to. It shows that change is here – to stay. It makes sure momentum does not falter. And when those who delivered these 'quick wins', you associate the change to real human beings: it is no longer just an idea, it is a human endeavor . 'Quick wins' become a rallying point.

'T' is for 'Tuck in'

While I could not be more positive about 'quick wins', let me suddenheshare share with you that surface changes will not suffice over the longer run. So tuck in, dig in and ensure that fundamental changes take place gradually , embed change in the systems, processes and procedures, structures and infrastructure, and policies to institutionalise over time the manifestations of the change. This gradual process of embedding change also makes possible the monitoring of progress during the change journey. Institutionalising change will allow change to become permanent.

There you have it: a comprehensive yet simple process to lead your team through change so they are able to SHIFT ™ effectively, buy into change and participate to it thanks to your stewardship.