“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.”
Benjamin Franklin said, “The only things certain in life are death and taxes”. I offer a third constant, and that is change. Either within your organization or within yourself, what you think is constant is always in transition. As Isaac Asimov mentioned in the title quote, the transition from one state to another can be difficult. If it were easy, we would not need leaders!
Leaders make their money charting a course through an ever-changing set of conditions. Just like a change in state for matter from solid to liquid to gas, each transition takes energy. A change in your organization takes energetic leadership, the energy provided by additional resources and the energy of the team moving in a different direction. The energy in your organization for change, just like the energy involved in changing states of matter, is finite. As a leader, one of your charges is to direct that limited source of energy in such a way as to successfully execute transitions.
The most difficult thing about transition is getting started. Just like waking up early on a frigid Saturday morning, you are reluctant to get out from beneath the warmth of your blankets to go for a run…let’s face it, being stationary is comfortable. Your body will begin to break down if stationary for too long and your organization will fail if it does not adapt to changes in its environment. In my last blog, I mentioned Blockbuster as a great example of this peril. To be successful is to be constantly changing.
As conditions surrounding you or your team change and you determine it is time for a transition, here are a few focus areas for you to consider:
Accept the transition:
Often the pressure to change can be seen as waves crashing against your organization, relentlessly smashing into the foundation, eroding what you once assumed immutable. Buddhist philosopher Jon Kabat-Zinn provides a unique way to deal with this challenge, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”
Accept the need to change and commit to it. Communicate openly with your team that although change will be challenging, you will all get through it together and will learn new skills in the process. Reduce the stress accompanying change by constantly preparing for it. Celebrate small changes within your organization and build a culture accepting of change.
Establish a goal:
If you are like me, a type-A personality, it may be difficult to lift your gaze from today’s challenges to see the waves of change coming your way. Just as a white water river guide looks downstream beyond the rapids to see where he or she wants to end up, a leader must determine where the organization is headed. Make it clear to your organization where you are headed and welcome all suggestions to navigate the transition. Heed those suggestions, mine them for nuggets of wisdom and establish a goal. As writer Lawerence Peter said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.”
Be flexible in your course of action:
Even if your team creates the perfect plan to navigate the transition, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. You do not know what currents or rocks lie below the surface, hidden from initial inspection, which cause you to change course during your journey.
Being successful during the transition means being comfortable enough with it to be willing to deviate from your original plan. Move confidently through the chaos while reassuring your team that chaos associated with change is normal.
Get out of the warm bed…it’s a trap! The only way you improve your health is by braving the chaos of transition. The only way to move your organization down the river towards your goal is through the chaos of the rapids. Accept that change is part of life and move through it confidently. As a leader, know that transition brings risk. It is your job to manage that risk and not let it capsize your boat. Follow the advice of a Chinese proverb, “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.” Good luck building your windmills!