Every leader is leading change; it’s integral to the job. Knowing how to do it, and do it well, is probably one of the most important skills any leader can have. But in my experience it is also one of the most difficult things a leader has to do. You would think that eventually we would get it figured out. That’s where books like Leading Change are so helpful.
In my experience, “establishing urgency” and “developing a vision,” while distinct, are intimately linked and essential for any effective change effort-at least a change effort of any significant magnitude.
Without establishing a sense of urgency there is seldom real forward movement. Urgency is all about communicating why the change needs to be made now; without that, people don’t move forward. The change effort takes a back seat to everything else that calls for attention. And there are always plenty of things calling for attention. Many leaders have been frustrated for just this reason. Their people agree that the changes would be beneficial, but nothing happens because people don’t have a sense of urgency.
Vision is connected. In a sense, vision is about the “what” while urgency is about the “why,” or more accurately, the “why now.” Vision describes the future reality; I love Kotter’s point that having an ineffective vision is worse than having none at all. That really struck me. An effective vision is going to resonate with people. I wonder if we sometimes rush the process because we know we need to have a vision with the result that we settle for one
that doesn’t have the impact it could. It takes time and work to establish an effective vision; we dare not shortcut the process if we want to lead change well.
I’ve also become a huge believer in the importance of getting short-term wins. It’s hard to overestimate the impact on morale and the energy that is released when people see positive results or real progress. In leading any change effort I think leaders should identify potential short-term wins and be very intentional about reaching, and then celebrating, those wins. Few things will have a bigger impact on the actual progress made.
What’s your take-away? What has been your experience leading change, for better or for worse?