Managing Change: A Real-World, 3-Step Process
In a recent board meeting someone brought up John Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change. Kotter is a well-respected Harvard Professor, author, and of course consultant on “change management”–which happens to be one of the hottest business topics in the last decade.
Change management guru’s explain that we live in a dynamic, highly competitive world and there are many changes we need to manage. For example, we might need to change our IT systems, or change our strategy, or change our sales compensation model, or change our R&D process…change, change and more change.
In fact, over 8 million people a month are searching Google on topics related to “change management”, “leading change”, “IT change”, “managing change” and more. Amazon.com returns over 66,000 results when you search for “change management.”
Seriously? Change Is That Complicated?
The funny thing is, I eat and breath change in my businesses daily and have never taken a course in it, read any books on it, or hired consultants to help. In fact, I know a lot of very successful business leaders who also deal in change and have never gotten an outside assist.
Don’t get me wrong, the need for “change” is common, and I consider myself to be quite a “change agent” to use another buzzword. But I have a two problems with all this.
First, it seems like a lot of mumbo jumbo. How would I describe change management instead? How about, “stuff we need to do.”
Business leaders are changing things by definition. In the last year leading a non-profit, I’ve “changed” our marketing plan, or sales compensation, our website, our back-end management system, our conference program, our fees, our membership model, our staff, and on and on and on.
In previous companies I’ve changed HR systems, payroll systems, CRM systems, recruiting processes, QC systems, and help desk systems. I’ve changed programming teams from ad hoc cowboys to teams using capability maturity models. I’ve changed sales teams from cold callers to strategic selling teams. I’ve opened new offices, closed offices, and led virtual work teams.
The world changes daily, and we need to “do stuff” to adapt and succeed. There’s no need to make it sound so unusual or threatening.
Keep It Simple Silly
The second problem I have with Kotter and the hundreds of Kotter-wannabe’s is that I’m a simple guy. No Harvard MBA here–just a simple state school bachelor’s degree (Whoo-Raa, Whoo-Raa; Rutgers Rah…).
8-steps to anything is always three steps more than I’ll ever remember, and if I can’t remember it, I won’t do it.
(Of course if you think you can’t do it, you can always call a consultant. But not me. Bootstrappers, profit-watchers, and fast-growth junkies usually do it on their own.)
So here for the first time is the Kevin Kruse real-world, no mumbo jumbo, three step model for change management:
1) Why Change. Explain to everyone why the change (i.e., the new thing) has to take place. What is wrong with the current system? What benefits will the new system have? Obviously for big changes, the benefits of the “new” had better far outweigh the pain of the “old.”
2) Assemble the Team. Assemble the right team to execute and champion the change, and be very clear on roles and responsibilities. Important rule: only one person should ever be accountable for anything. There can be dozens or even hundreds of people that contribute, but having only one person in charge eliminates the possibility of finger-pointing and eases communication.
3) Reward & Punish. Reward or celebrate those who make the change successfully; punish those who won’t change or interfere with the change process. Be merciless here.
You can remember this 3-step model with the acronym W.A.R.
As in, “Go to WAR for change” or even better, go to W.A.R. for whatever your initiative is (e.g., Go to WAR for the new CRM system; Go to WAR for R&D).
The Key to Making W.A.R. Work for Change: Persistence
To make this three-step model work, you have to constantly be beating the drum. (OK, so changing stuff is a little hard). You can’t just issue a memo or hold one meeting and think it will happen. As a leader you must be at “WAR” constantly. Explain the “why” in a big rally, remind people in your quarterly meetings, reference it in your weekly memos, put it in your annual report. Sound like a broken record.
Once you’ve assembled the team, keep evaluating them. Who needs to be removed because they are too slow? Who should be added to solve an issue? Is the champion/leader getting the job done? Achieving anything comes down to People and Process. If you aren’t getting results you need to change one or the other.
If you find comfort in complicated solutions or expensive consultants go for it. As long as it works in the end, that’s what counts. But just know that when it comes to “leading change” or “change management” you have it in your power to get it done.
What are your tips for driving change? Let me know in the comments below.
Kevin Kruse is a NY Times bestselling author and keynote speaker. Get more success and tips from his newsletter at kevinkruse.com and check out keynote video clips. His new book, Employee Engagement 2.0, teaches managers how to turn apathetic groups into emotionally committed teams.