Change How You Change
The changes we don’t like are the changes that aren’t our idea. And when the changes we have to lead aren’t our idea, it’s on us to step up to the challenge, in some cases, whether we like it or not.
Think about it. Mask mandates. Supply chain challenges that make some of our favorite products unavailable. Overnight delivery that suddenly isn’t guaranteed. The cost of consumable goods, particularly groceries and gas prices.
But organizational change is different.
I made a speech to a group of community bankers in Phoenix in 1994. The title of my speech was “Change or Die.” The message was that if banks don’t adapt to the changing needs of their customers, particularly their growing appetite for digital delivery, they won’t have a bank to manage in the future.
There were roughly 14,500 banks in the U.S. at that time. Today, there are about 4,500. The reality of bank failures for financial reasons aside, approximately 10,000 banks have lost their independence since then for one of two reasons. Either selling the bank was the logical exit strategy for a family, senior executives, or shareholders, or they failed to manage change.
There are three ways that change can fail in an organization, not just banks:
- Change that doesn’t make sense or change people don’t believe in;
- A lack of leadership in implementing change; or,
- Change that pushes people unrealistically beyond their capacity or capabilities.
I wrote this about change a long time ago from something I read and lived throughout my career (author unknown), “Change is not about whether it’s needed or not, or whether it’s good or bad. Change is about whether leaders can balance the need to change with the capacity to change. Adaptation to new realities requires change, but not all change will get you there.”
Choose the hill(s) you want to die on carefully. Better yet, focus on the hill(s) you can conquer. Assuming we can inflict relentless change on our people without seeing it through before moving on to the next change is a recipe for failure. A company can change only as fast as its people can absorb the change, support the new vision, and execute on it.
Make sure people understand why you’re asking them to change. True leaders lead the change actively. They know the facts, address concerns, and get buy-in from their team. They listen, and they learn. They ask their people how to effect change from their perspective and cultivate joint ownership in the process. And they accept responsibility for change that doesn’t work…then move on.