Change Leadership - Ignore Best Practices at Your Peril

Too often we forget the basics. And we pay dearly for it.

One of the basics of a successful lean transformation, heck any transformation, is change management. When it comes to stuff like that, I defer to the experts for insight into the "how."

John P. Kotter, author of Leading Change and A Sense of Urgency and co-author of several other great books, is a change management, or should I say change leadership, expert.  Kotter identifies an eight-stage process for creating major change. There's obviously a lot to discuss behind each one of the stages, but for now, the list is a great start.

  1. Establishing a sense of urgency,
  2. Creating a guiding coalition,
  3. Developing a vision and strategy,
  4. Communicating the change vision,
  5. Empowering broad-based action,
  6. Generating short-term wins,
  7. Consolidating gains and producing more change, and
  8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture.

It's great stuff and hard to argue against any of it, in total or at the elemental level.  But, lean leaders routinely fail (I'm guilty) to follow this game plan (or other proven change management game plans by folks like Daryl R. Conner). I believe that there are a handful of reasons for this lack of adherence, including:

  • Degree of difficulty (and/or leadership impatience). Change is hard (one of my better statements of the obvious). Applying the rigor of a proven multi-step process, in the short-term, just seems to make it harder and delays getting into the action of changing processes, value streams. organization structures, etc.  Q: Isn't there a short-cut? A: Not if you want to be successful.
  • Lack of humility. This can be translated as, "I know what I'm doing...I don't need no stinkin' process." Of course, you never actually hear people say that, they just act that way.
  • Drift. At the launch of any sort of transformation, everything is shiny and new - full of hope...and I dare say, the promise of change. But, shortly after the launch, things can get very messy.  Even if an organization applies best practices to optimize the chance of success from the perspective of learning and leverage while managing technical and human resource related risks, there will be no shortage of  problems. Amidst the fog of issues and challenges, it is very easy to lose one's change leadership bearings. Urgency can make leaders "forget" or procrastinate when it comes to living the basics of change leadership.

So, what to do? Study what the masters of change leadership teach relative to strategy and technology.  Apply the rigor and build it into the overall implementation plan relative to timing, level of effort and ownership  (for example, provide yourself and your team with the requisite time to develop a vision and strategy). Religiously conduct frequent formal and informal PDCA checkpoints to keep yourself on track and to identify necessary adjustments. Use an external coach to keep everyone honest.

Change leadership is hard enough. Don't handicap yourself and your organization by ignoring best practices.

Related posts: The War Room – More than an Interior Decorating Statement, The Post-Value Stream Analysis Hangover

There are 6 Comments

Tim Pettry's picture

Mark, thanks for a great reminder of Kotter's change management process. Your graphic reminded me of one of the best change management quotes I've heard and used many times, "The only person who welcomes change is a wet baby."


markrhamel's picture

Hi Tim,

Thanks for the comment and great quote!

I just can't believe how many folks totally blow off the change management process and then wonder why their lean implementation falls flat. The technical aspects of lean are relatively easy, but it is often the first and last area lean leaders look to when considering adjustments.

Best regards,

markrhamel's picture

Hi Jamie,

Amen, brother! We need to be lean THINKERS and learners, not lemmings.

No guru has a perfect model, but they often provide a construct and starting point (get that flywheel moving!) that is pretty darn good. In the end, the change must be transformative - deep, expansive and long-term, as you reference within your examples.

Best regards,

Jamie Flinchbaugh's picture

Learn from people that write about change management. Certainly reflect on your own practices. But don't take any of that too literally or as if written in stone. You must understand what you're trying to accomplish as following even the mighty Kotter's practices will fail many times.

Some examples: lean must go past change initiative to everyday life. The guiding coalition model is helpful to get the flywheel moving, but often becomes a barrier to further adoption. "I don't need to own lean, the coalition has that ball" is the reaction from the crowd.

Also, sense of urgency or building a "burning platform" does not work vey well for long-term change. Someone will jump off the burning platform in the short term for some specific challenge or change. But if you want that to be sustained, you need to build a positive vision of what they get when they pursue that change for a long period of time. "Change or die" does not work for the marathon journey.

Learn from the "gurus", but think for yourself as well.

Jamie Flinchbaugh

markrhamel's picture

Hi Don,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I've found time and again that I need to revisit the basics when it comes to change management. It's easy to get caught up in the micro stuff and either forget (or procrastinate) to step back and assess whether or not our change management strategy is effective.

Best regards,

Don's picture

Very helpful and good reminders for me.
I think I need to re-evaluate where my efforts have been targeted.