Are You Making This Mistake When Leading Your Team Through Change?

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[Tweet “Are you making this mistake when leading your team through change?”]Motivational Speaker Bill StaintonYou may have seen the clip; it was all over the news—and not just the sports news. In a November 2014 football game between Utah and Oregon, Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay runs the ball for what appears to be an easy touchdown. Just one problem: he tosses the ball away before crossing the end zone, and starts to celebrate. At that point, Oregon player Joe Walker picks up the ball and runs it all the way down the field for an Oregon touchdown, and eventual win.

Clay’s mistake? Declaring victory too early.

If you did see that clip (which I’ve graciously attached to this post, because I care), you may have thought, “What an idiot! How could he make a mistake like that?”

And yet I see leaders do it all the time, particularly when trying to lead their teams through change.

Look, change can be tough. I get it. I’ve been there. During the 15 years when I was producing my TV show, I led my team through dozens of changes—some small, some huge. And my experience and subsequent research has convinced me that the biggest mistake leaders make when leading their teams through change is the same mistake Kaelin Clay made: declaring victory too early.

Declaring victory too early.

I’ve talked about this before, but change, at its most basic, is a three step process:

  1. The part before the change (the way things are now)
  2. The change itself (the messy part)
  3. The part after the change (the new, improved future)

The problem is that many leaders declare victory immediately after step 2. This is understandable. Step 2, for most organizations, is the hardest part (that’s why I call it “the messy part”). It’s the part that’s full of fear and uncertainty. So getting through it is a big deal—and, in fact, it should be celebrated as the milestone it is!

But “celebrating a milestone” is not the same as “declaring victory.” The change isn’t over yet. It hasn’t yet “taken.” If you, as a leader, declare victory immediately after step 2—in essence, wipe your hands and say, “There! That’s done!”—you’re doing the leadership version of dropping the ball before the end zone.

Yes, celebrate the milestones (and you need to have milestones with appropriate celebrations). But don’t kid yourself into thinking you’ve scored the touchdown run. You don’t get the points until you cross the end zone (with the ball in hand!). And you don’t declare victory until the change is fully assimilated into the organizational culture—until it becomes “the way we do things.”

Only then can you pat yourself on the back and declare victory.

Now it’s your turn. How do you, as a leader, know when change has actually “taken” in your organization? Please leave a comment below and help us learn from your experience.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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