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For years I have taught the change process by illustrating a number of sigmoid curves, the one neatly following the other. Only recently did I come across a graphic used by David Gray to explain how change works in real life. It makes perfect sense. At the rate at which changes are happening in 2017, it does seem as though even change is changing! Gray explains that change curves work a lot more like pruning branches than the rolling of smooth waves. Change happens through quick, successive experiments as many new innovations need to be tested and abandoned as wego along. As long as the direction and rules of the game are clear, employees need to be given space in which they can experiment, make improvements and “burn and learn”. Leaders need to allow followers to rapidly move to prototypes. Failures have to be encouraged as long as learning is shared and applied.
The implications for leading change would be to follow the following steps:
- Establish clear values (what are the non-negotiable rules of the “game”)
- Ensure the end goal is clear, measurable, shared and understood
- Launch multiple experiments
- Encourage sharing of mistakes and learning
- Evaluate and enhance
- Launch, learn and move onto next change
Steps 3 – 5 will be a cyclical process until the project team is ready to launch knowing the chances of success are predictable. The secret here is to ensure that the rate of the burn and learn cycle is rapid and the learnings are implemented quickly without placing blame and causing experimenters embarrassment and fear of failure.
Thinking differently about change leadership is practising what we preach. If the very nature of change leadership is to bring about change it will remain an ever-transforming field.
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Faculty: Strategic Change Management