Effective Organizational Change

Step#1: Write Up the Clear and Compelling Purpose for Change

BLC begins with getting clear on the why behind the change. We want to get everyone on the same page—if we all agree on good reasons for the change, the odds that it will succeed increase greatly. As Detroit-based anarchist Jo Labadie said a century ago, “Discontent is the mother of progress.” Sharing our purpose for change:

a. Helps the change leader get really clear about why they believe the change is beneficial and how badly it’s needed. More often than not, I find that when I start to compile my case, the need for change looks even more compelling than I thought it was. On occasion, though, it isn’t as compelling. Either way, I’m clearer in my own head about why I’m after the change and why the course of action we’re embarking on is the right one. This clarity means I’m better able to explain my interests and am more likely to hold my ground when I meet with resistance en route.

b. Gets others clear on why the change is a good idea. Left to our own don’t-rock-the-boat devices, most of us aren’t usually all that bothered by the status quo … which means that pretty much everyone except the change leaders are likely to see the change at hand as a bother. If we want to get everyone to move forward with us toward a better future, we need to start by selling them on the process. This step is really as simple as that: tell the people who are going to be impacted why the change is worthwhile. Just list all the reasons why the change is a good one. (Note that “Because I said so!” should not be on the list. That’s only likely to send everyone in the direction opposite the one you want to take them. Royal edicts almost always elicit additional resistance.)

Often the issue is one of framing. For instance, the change leaders might have a strong sense that the marketplace is passing them by, that without a significant shift in the services they offer, the company is likely to lose significant sales. At the same time, frontline folks doing the daily work may not be watching social trends in the same way and might feel no need to adjust. Simply sharing a different perspective might be enough to get them on board—it helps show folks that the choice is to make significant and internally driven changes now or painful, market-imposed changes later. Given that choice, nearly everyone will choose the former option. (I should point out that this scenario can happen—and has happened—in reverse: employees see what’s happening, but leaders have their heads stuck in the sand. In that case, BLC can still be effective. The change leader would likely come from the front lines.)

Similarly, new government regulations, bad financing, or product innovations from a competitor all provide compelling reasons to change—but only if you know about them. The way things are might seem wonderful … until you find out that if things don’t change, the business is going to be shut down in six weeks. Then all of a sudden making changes sounds a lot more appealing!

Read more about the recipe in this pamphlet! Bottom Line Change: Zingerman’s Recipe for Effective Organizational Change.

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