When a transformational initiative fails, it’s often said that it was because people don’t like change. That’s not really true. Everywhere I go in the world, no matter what type of group I’m speaking to, people are enthusiastic about some kind of change. It’s other people’s ideas for change that they aren’t so crazy about.
Senior leaders love to tell me about their inspired visions for their enterprise, but complain that they can’t get the rank-and-file to go along. Middle managers complain that they are bursting with ideas, but can’t get the bosses to go along. As failed initiatives pile up, people talk past each other and change fatigue sets in.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There are natural laws that govern change and these laws can be learned and applied by anyone. The problem is that managers don’t study change the same way they study finance, or marketing, or strategy. Business schools don’t teach it as a discipline. But change has a lifecycle that we can learn to manage and exploit.
Identifying A Problem That Needs Solving
As a young man, Mohandas Gandhi wasn’t the type of person anyone would notice. Impulsive and undisciplined, he was also so shy as a young lawyer that he could hardly bring himself to speak in open court. With his law career failing, he accepted an offer to represent the cousin of a wealthy muslim merchant in South Africa.
Upon his arrival, Gandhi was subjected to humiliation on a train and it changed him. His sense of dignity offended, he decided to fight back. He found his voice, built the almost superhuman discipline he became famous for and successfully campaigned for the rights of Indians in South Africa. He returned to India 21 years later as the “Mahatma,” or “holy man.”
Revolutions don’t begin with a slogan, they begin with a cause. Martin Luther King Jr., as eloquent as he was, didn’t start with words. It was his personal experiences with racism that helped him find his words. His devotion to the cause that gave those words meaning, not the other way around.
Steve Jobs didn’t look for ideas, but for products that sucked. Computers sucked. Music players sucked. Mobile phones sucked. His passion was to make them “insanely great.”…