According to John Kotter’s model for leading change, the first step to overcoming inertia requires us to instill a sense of true urgency in those we need to support, implement and sustain the change. While it is ideal if this urgency is tied to What’s In It For Me, at a minimum, we all want proof that committing our time and political influence to a particular initiative at this very moment is cheaper than the cost of doing nothing.
But the steps in Kotter’s model, like PMBOK processes, are not to be followed in a purely sequential manner.
Significant organization transformations usually require a year or more to become “the new normal” and we are only fooling ourselves if we assume that those stakeholders who were focused and motivated to champion our initiative in its early days will continue to remain so for the long haul. Executives and mid-level managers are constantly juggling competing priorities and as long as it appears that a change initiative is not on fire, their attention spans are likely to be shorter than that of a goldfish.
As such, we need to iterate back to instilling that sense of true urgency at regular intervals. The specific cadence varies based on the complexity and duration of a transformation. Fan the flames too rarely and the spark will be extinguished. Do it too often and you’ll be treated like the boy who cried “Wolf!”.
But is reminding stakeholders that they need to support us enough to gain this support? Maintaining focus requires quid pro quo otherwise we are likely to hear “What have you done for me lately?”
This is why regardless of the nature of a transformation we need to inject agility into its delivery. We can follow adapted versions of key Manifesto principles such as:
- Our highest priority is to satisfy our stakeholders through early and continuous delivery of business value
- Deliver business value frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale
- At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to implement change more effectively, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly
- Change champions and the team must work together frequently throughout the transformation
Newton’s first law: An object at rest remains at rest, or if in motion, remains in motion at a constant velocity unless acted on by a net external force.