Sadly, I speak from experience. During my fifteen years as the Executive Producer of Seattle’s sketch comedy TV show Almost Live!, I led my team through numerous changes (personnel changes, time slot changes, format changes, etc.). Now, I say “I led my team,” but more often than I care to admit, it was more like “we stumbled through change together.”
Now be honest—didn’t you just have a painful little pang of recognition? The truth is that most leaders don’t lead their teams through change. More often than not, the leader and his or her team “stumble through change together.” And, in many cases, they end up stumbling right back to the way things were before.
The 3 Steps in Leading Change
Why is this? It’s because most leaders don’t understand that leading change is, at its core, a three-step process:
- Before change
- During change
- After change
It’s that third step—after change—that most leaders miss. Maybe it’s because the second step—the during part—is so exhausting (or at least can be), that afterwards the leader just wants to have a stiff drink and say, “Thank goodness that’s over!”
But it’s not. There’s still another step. Let’s take a look at what the three steps are all about:
- Before change. This is when you realize that, for whatever reason (and the reason can be good or bad, the carrot or the stick), change is necessary. You, as the leader, begin to communicate the necessity with your team and gather support.
- During change. This is the messy part. This is when you actually start implementing the changes. You install the new software, you merge the two departments, you re-structure the product line. This is when everybody gets confused and angry and frustrated. But eventually, you get through it, which leads us to…
- After change. This is when you reinforce, reward, and anchor the change. It’s like pouring a slab of cement. (I guess. I’ve never poured a slab of cement in my life.) If you open the sidewalk to pedestrians as soon as you’re finished pouring the cement, you’re going to end up with not just a messed up sidewalk, but a bunch of dirty and angry pedestrians as well (although you will get some good YouTube videos). No, you have to allow time for the cement set.
It’s the same with change. You have to allow time for the change to set. And, during this time, you need to reinforce the change. Show that it’s working. Visibly celebrate the victories—large and small—that result from the change. Keep advocating for the new direction. Keep the team looking forward. Otherwise, they’ll start drifting backward, toward the old and the familiar.
You have to allow time for the change to set, so that it can become the familiar. And you have to do this consciously, proactively.
Until you do that, your job as a leader of change is not finished.
Now it’s your turn. What techniques have you found effective for making sure the changes you lead your team through actually stick? Share your thoughts and successes below so that you can help other leaders!Share