To drive change – lead with passion and vision, not execution

If something isn’t working, change it.

As the old saying goes, “Without change, there is no change”

If you are overweight and change nothing, you don’t lose weight.

If you cannot swim, and change nothing, you will not magically learn to swim.

The same is true in business, but with the added complexity that failing to change may cause your business fail anyway.

If you know a change is needed but change nothing, then your fears about what might happen are likely to become reality by virtue of your inaction and indecision. The world doesn’t wait for anyone.

Markets don’t wait.

Competitors don’t wait.

and customers certainly don’t wait.

If you want the change to be successful though, then assign the leadership of this challenge to someone who is passionate about what can be achieved, not what exists. Find someone who is passionate about ‘what can be’, about ‘what is possible’.

Most people are fearful of change and uncertainty. This isn’t unusual, it is the normal human reaction. So for any major change is to be successful, it needs to be led by someone who is positive and passionate about what is possible.

Whatever you do, don’t give this to an ‘execution guy’. Never give change projects to plan-following-gantt-loving-box-tickers. Have them monitor the change, report on the change, manage the details of resource allocation, but never lead it. Never let these people meet those that are at the centre of the change. Keep them securely away, counting beans, updating spreadsheets and producing reports; but never let them meet people.

Take the example of a personal trainer. 

You need to be enthused about what is possible; excited by the idea of the new you; fired up to want to make the sacrifices of time, sweat and pain.

What you don’t want is a personal trainer that defines a functional plan, clearly outlines the sacrifices, but fails to excite you about what is possible.

Worse than that, you never want a trainer that fails to excite you about the future you, instead they demand you follow a plan of steady plan of change. Week after week, month after month … just following the plan.

One problem with this approach … It won’t work.

It isn’t that the plan doesn’t work – it is that you will not stick to it. Without a clear vision of what is possible, any initial excitement will quickly turn into resentment at the plan and the training, with the result that you stop.

You may have a bad week (and not stuck to the plan). A good trainer will not shy away from giving you honest feedback but the conversation always needs to end positively – with you back on track and focused on the goal. You need to stay focused on the goal.

So a quick tip here – if you want to get fit, learn a skill or make a life change, then find a personal trainer who is passionate about what is possible. That doesn’t mean that they cannot be honest with you, challenge you, or give you a hard time, but underneath all of this must be a positivity that change is possible and you can achieve it. They need to believe in you – even if you don’t believe in yourself at the start.

Now lets move this example to the workplace.

If we want people to embrace workplace change, we need to excite them about the goal, about what is possible. We need to address their fears, always be honest, but never step back from demonstrating positivity about the future.

All too often though, change programs are delivered as functional projects to be followed and implemented by experienced project managers in initiatives that strip any passion out from the project. Instead of exciting people with the future, they instead find an increasing need to mandate, to order and force through changes. The change may happen (eventually), but at the cost of trust, respect and integrity. The loss of these may leave a company in a worse position than before the change. They will certainly result in the loss of people that you want to keep. So, even a change project delivered to plan can be a failure, if your company is harmed by the process of going through the change.

I’m not advocating that you let the evangelist, the visionary or the maverick control the finances or manage budgeting, but don’t the accountant lead change programs either – this second is a much bigger risk than letting someone with imagination and passion get his hands on the money to make things actually happen.

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