“I don’t know whether this is the best of times or the worst of times, but I assure you it’s the only time you’ve got.” – Art Buchwald
Standing in front of the assembled group of more than 150 staff to tell them they were being reorganized–again–was a little daunting to say the least. Everyone was clearly nervous about the change, but the leadership team assured them we would seize this latest change as an opportunity. However, embracing the change and looking for opportunities to make that change work for us was key to turning a potential disaster into success. Using a three step process we turned the reorg into an opportunity to chart our own future.
Just like the waves in the ocean, change is a part of life and a part of business. Technology, organizations, products, and even demographics change on a regular basis. Leaders who don’t actively plan for and lead their organizations through change, will be swamped by the wave of change. Leading change effectively is a three-step process:
Step 1 – Survey the Environment
Step 2 – Plan for Change
Step 3 – Implement the Change
In this three part series, I’ll teach you the basics so you can lead your teams through change and be ready for the next “wave” of change.
Step 1 – Survey the Environment.
The first step is to look out at the environment and take stock. Just like a surfer checking out the ocean waves, leaders have to be able to understand their environment before even making a plan. It is wasted effort to make a plan for something that doesn’t exist or for an environment already different. Effective leadership entails defining success and understanding what you’re dealing with before taking action. Not only does this give you the opportunity to generate options, but it provides you the chance to gain perspective and involve other stakeholders who can also help lead the change.
Military leaders stress the need for agility because it gives them the initiative. When we have the initiative, we’re the ones driving the pace of operations–not the adversary. It’s the same in business. For any business to remain agile, leaders must anticipate and lead change so everyone else is responding to your agenda. As a mentor once told me, “If you ain’t the lead dog, the view never changes.”
Survey the business environment and the internal culture to look for trends or problems. A good understanding of the environment is crucial to making a plan to change, and leaders must have a plan for change. When leading change, you need to be asking yourself some pretty fundamental questions at the very beginning. The very first thing any military leader gets when we “launch” is a mission statement from our boss. We try to begin with as clear an idea as possible about where we’re going and why. When leading change, you have to know what you’re trying to achieve, what’s driving the change, and who’s involved in that change. Asking yourself these basic questions will enable you to begin to plan for that oncoming wave:
- Is the economy changing?
- Does our product need updating?
- Is there a change in technology
- Who is affected? Is this an internal change or are there external stakeholders?
- hen will the change start? Need to be completed?
- Why is the change needed? Can you simply ride out the environmental changes?
- How will the change impact current operations? How about short-, mid- and long-term business strategy?
Of course, no matter how compelling the reason and logic of change, unless you have a good handle on the environment you’ll likely to meet significant resistance. During my very first squadron command I was responsible for construction services to the Air Force Intelligence Command. There were three units who did what we did–we were the largest of the three at 85 personnel–and so it made sense to everyone at our unit that we should move the overseas detachments under me. We did all their scheduling and most of their engineering design support. What I failed to do was properly survey the environment and understand that altering command relationships for these two other detachments would be an emotional subject with the commanders. The fact that I was a junior captain and the other commanders were lieutenant colonels didn’t help much either! To them, it looked like a “land grab” rather than a logical re-organization for greater efficiency. In the end, I failed to make the case for change because I had lost the initiative in the discussion early on. Truly, I never even had the opportunity to make the case for change because I was on the defensive from the start.
Had I properly surveyed the environment and fully understood the stakeholders’ concerns, I would have approached the proposed change far differently than I did. Appealing to logic was really the wrong tact–what I needed to do was form relationships so the enterprise would see it was to their benefit to off-load an engineering mission so they could focus on their operational mission.
Understanding the environment is an indispensable first step to any successful change!