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Leading Continuous Change

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Most change efforts fail because most change methods are built to deal with single challenges in a nice, neat, linear way. But leaders know that today, pressures for change don't come at you one at a time; they come all at once. It's like riding a roller coaster: sudden drops, jarring turns, anxious climbs into the unknown. Drawing on his years of experience at the Center for Creative Leadership and Columbia University, Bill Pasmore offers a four-part model and four mindsets that allow leaders to deal with multiple changes simultaneously without drowning in the churn.

The first step, Pasmore says, is to Discover which external pressures for change are the most necessary to address. The key here is to think fewer—step away from the buffet of possibilities and pinpoint the highest-impact options. Then you need to Decide how many change efforts your organization can handle. Here the mindset is to think scarcer—you have only so many people and so many resources, so how do you best use them? Once you've figured that out, it's time to Do—and here you want to think faster. Streamline processes and engage in rapid prototyping so you can learn quickly and cost-effectively. The last step is to Discern what worked and what didn't, so think smarter—develop metrics, identify trends, and make sure learnings are disseminated throughout the organization.

For each stage of the process, Pasmore offers detailed advice, practical tools, and real-world examples. This book is a comprehensive guide to navigating change the way it happens now.

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CHAPTER 1 Riding the Coaster

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THINK BACK to your first roller-coaster ride. For some of you, it might have been on the comet, one of the great wooden roller coasters of all time, nearly 100 years old and still in operation at the Great Escape in Queensbury, New York, after having been moved from its original location in Fort Erie, Ontario.

As you approached, the screams from those riding the coaster grew louder. What were you thinking? Was it going to be fun or terrifying? As you waited were you anxious to get to the front of the line, or were you looking around to find a way out? By the time you actually sat in the car and fastened your seat belt, were you excited or shaking?

Clank, clank, clank. As the cars climbed the first big hill, were you taking in the view with amazement or wondering how you got yourself into this mess? Did you have a premonition of doom (after all, you observed the first-aid office near the exit of the ride), or were you ready for whatever came? As you crested the first hill, did you relax going over the top or envision yourself falling offthe moon and crash-landing into the park below, scattered into tiny pieces?

 

CHAPTER 2 Leading Complex, Continuous Change

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TO AVOID the sensation of riding a roller coaster when leading complex, continuous change, you need to take control. To do that, you need a plan, an approach that works.

The new CEO of a consumer products company took over after an extended period of mediocre performance. After some investigation he soon realized that there would be no quick or simple fix for the problems the organization was facing.

The company had been built by a series of acquisitions that had never been fully integrated. As a result, each unit ran independently, with few synergies being achieved. Furthermore, the culture of each unit was distinct, and people from one culture had little respect for the others. To add to the challenge, each unit was headed by a vice president who sought to maximize his autonomy, making it difficult to reach consensus on the changes necessary to improve performance. From an operations standpoint, each unit ran on its own IT platform and fiscal calendar, making integrated financial management a challenge. Each unit had its own salesforce, meaning the company sent fmultiple salespeople to call on the same customers, with different terms being offered. The supply chain was not integrated, and manufacturing costs and quality varied widely from one location to another.

 

CHAPTER 3 Discovering: Think Fewer

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THE OBJECTIVE of Discovering is to identify viable opportunities for change. Later, having identified these opportunities, decisions can be made about which ones to pursue. During Discovering, it is important to remember to think fewer because the attraction to do everything that is discovered leads to overloads that can prove to be unmanageable. The goal is to identify the most important opportunities rather than create an exhaustive list.

Leading complex, continuous change involves stepping back, scanning the internal and external environment, and, from what is found, either developing or recrafting a vision that aligns people with the desired direction. Pitfalls in this activity include relying exclusively on internal perspectives, letting the past blind views of future possibilities, and falling in love with too many ideas.

There are three key subcomponents of Discovering:

Stepping back: calling a time-out to do a thorough appraisal of possibilities

 

CHAPTER 4 Deciding: Think Scarcer

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AS NOTED PREVIOUSLY, you can be good at anything you choose; you just can’t be good at everything. There’s a reason why the vast majority of Olympic athletes compete in only one sport; at world-class levels, it takes a dedicated focus to compete against the best of the best. Contrast this kind of single-minded focus with what you observe in your own life. How many things do you try to do at the same time? A short list for many of us would include excelling in our career; being a good parent/partner/friend/son or daughter; giving something back to others; keeping up with current events; finding time to refresh and renew ourselves—you get the idea. As noted by time and health coaches Jack Groppel and Bob Andelman in their book The Corporate Athlete, we don’t live our lives the way Olympic athletes do.1 We spread ourselves too thin and yet berate ourselves for not being successful in everything. We lack focus and discipline. We carry this tendency with us as we step into roles as organizational members or leaders. As you might imagine, it does not help us lead complex, continuous change. Yet we cannot seem to help ourselves. Groppel and Andelman advise that it is not the sheer amount of time you put into something you want to improve in your life that guarantees progress. It is the quality of that time. Pick a few things and do them with commitment and intensity rather than spread yourself thin. Seems like good advice for change leaders too.

 

CHAPTER 5 Doing: Think Faster

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THE OBJECTIVE of Doing is to engage the organization in executing the change strategy. The key thought in this component of the work is faster. Complex, continuous change does not lend itself well to a ponderous, wait-and-see approach to execution. Instead the organization needs to move as quickly as possible to gain the benefits of current efforts and prepare itself for the next. The real way to get faster at change, however, is the opposite of what many believe. Delivering top-down dictates and charging ahead before you have taken time to figure out what you are doing or to get on the same page with others actually slows down change rather than speeds it up.

My colleague at CCL, John McGuire, talks about “slowing down to speed up,” by which he means that a little engagement, planning, and coordination can eliminate serious execution problems later on.1 In the context of Deciding, I mentioned the polarity to be managed between maintaining a reasonable amount of stability and changing enough to meet the demands of the situation. Going slowly so that you can prepare to go faster is another polarity to be managed. It is not either taking time to plan or moving ahead quickly; it’s both. We know from early experiments in creating high-performance systems that engagement increases the speed of execution by 30 percent or more. We also know that authentic engagement takes time as people learn about change and wrestle with its implications. We recognize that as much as we would like people not to go through the ending and neutral zone stages described by William Bridges in Managing Transitions before they can change, there is no way around it.2

 

CHAPTER 6 Discerning: Think Smarter

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THE OBJECTIVE of Discerning is to learn from experience to improve the organization’s capacity to change over time. Learning may not be as important in onetime change efforts, but it is crucial in continuous change. Without learning, costly mistakes are repeated, confusion persists, and motivation takes a nosedive. With learning, confidence grows—assurance that important changes can be handled simultaneously without overloading the system or taking an unnecessary toll on those involved.

The US Army is well known for undertaking after-action reviews in which those engaged in carrying out a mission pause afterward to understand what went well and what didn’t and why.1 During these reviews, efforts are made to eliminate the effects that rank would normally have on the frankness of conversations. Privates are asked to speak openly to generals, who need to hear what the privates saw and did in order to learn from them and improve how engagements are led in the future. There are four basic questions: What did we expect to happen? What actually happened? Why did it happen? and What do we need to do differently going forward? After-action reviews are one way to begin Discerning. For Discerning to be of maximum benefit, the learning needs to be put into action through making adjustments in our approach to change.

 

CHAPTER 7 Building Greater Change Capacity over Time

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WITH NO END TO CHURN in sight, it makes sense to learn how to respond to change at the pace the world is demanding. We have covered the actions required; now let’s address how to continue to grow the capabilities needed to lead complex, continuous change over time.

Futurist Bob Johansen, in his book Leaders Make the Future, asserts that leaders need not be passive victims of change.1 Rather he maintains that leaders can shape the future if they know how. This would certainly be helpful in the context of constant churn. Johansen lists 10 capabilities leaders should possess:

The maker instinct—being entrepreneurial and action oriented; taking advantage of opportunities to make things better

Clarity—being absolutely clear about one’s purpose

Dilemma flipping—seeing the opportunities that rising above seemingly opposing and unresolvable differences presents

Immersive learning—knowing your field very, very well and knowing a bit about everything else too

 

CHAPTER 8 The Key Message and Guidelines for Action

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YOU HAVE BEEN on the roller coaster of complex, continuous change for a while. You may know what it feels like to live with continuous change with no way to deal with it effectively. If that is the case for you and your organization, it’s not a comfortable ride. Now you know that there is a way to deal with it but that it is still challenging. It will force you to do some things that are new and may not be easy. You realize that things won’t get better on their own. Change is not going away. If you want your organization to more effectively navigate churn, you need to take action.

What to do? The key message here is that complex, continuous change is manageable but that it takes a level of rigor and focus that you may not have applied before. The first thing to do is to pause. Stop, reflect, and do an honest assessment of how well your leaders are doing at coping with everything that is coming at them. Are they on top of it, with a clear, strategic, realistic plan of action? Or are they buried beneath it, adding more and more to the organization’s change agenda without completing existing projects successfully?

 

APPENDIX A A Checklist for Assessing Where You Are

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HERE IS A SET of questions to help you think about what you might need to improve. Check the boxes to remind yourself where you may want to do some further work.

Right team Do we have the right seven- to nine-person team with the power, ability, perspectives, and credibility to guide us in looking at everything we are doing and everything that is happening to discover the few critical things we must attend to now?

Right process Are leaders committed to following the right process to discover what’s really important?

Right data Have we analyzed data from a 360-degree perspective—internal, external, historical, and future?

Right conclusions Have we narrowed our focus to a few opportunities that will have the greatest impact? Have we stopped trying to do everything at once?

Vision Is our vision current, compelling, enticing, enabling, real, truthful, relevant, urgent, and personal?

 

APPENDIX B Leading Continuous Change Self-Assessment

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AS MENTIONED in the preface of this book, you may be interested in this assessment that is intended to help you pinpoint your personal starting place in leading continuous change. The short 24-item survey will help you understand which of the four critical mindsets for leading change may need attention. The scoring sheet breaks down the four mindsets and helps you understand the perspectives you must adopt to be successful when there is more than one change occurring. As a companion to the organizational checklist in Appendix A, this tool will help you understand how ready you are to step up and lead continuous change.

Here is the link to the self-assessment:

www.bkconnection.com/continuouschange-sa

You may take the survey up to four times in a 12-month period. Bulk order discounts are also available for programs.

 

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