One Critical Component to Leading Change

I had two separate experiences with leading change recently that demonstrate one critical aspect that is often the difference between success and failure. Let me share the two scenarios – see if you can guess what it is. Of course, I’ll share it as well.

Scenario #1: Recently I was with an executive team delivering one of our most popular Leadership-in-a-Box programs Leading Change. At the end of each “LB” program, we have the participants complete a worksheet applying the concepts they just learned and then share it with a peer to get feedback.

This program was no different. The executives selected a change they needed to lead, completed the worksheet based on our short and practical change model and then compared their action plan with another executive, factoring in their feedback.

Next, each executives reported their plan to the whole group, as well as the feedback they received, which they acknowledged would improve the likelihood for success. But the biggest takeaway came next. “All of our leaders should do this,” they said. “Whenever a leader has a new change to lead, they should take a few minutes to complete this worksheet, THEN get feedback from another leader and THEN begin the change. That will immediately improve the quality of ALL of our change efforts!”

Scenario #2: I spoke with the Chief People Officer of a growing healthcare organization who had just purchased a bundle of our Leadership-in-a-Box programs. Before their new leadership initiative began, she pulled out the same Leading Change program and presented it at a leadership summit to the organization’s top 60 executives. (Our LB programs are designed so even an amateur presenter can facilitate well, but this particular executive could make a rock seem interesting and business relevant – and she did a wonderful job.)

She told me how the change model and the illustrations connected with the group before sharing the key takeaway from the group. “They all completed the worksheet,” she explained. “Then, we agreed as a group that whenever a new change is required, each unit’s administrative leader and physician leader will complete a new change worksheet together before getting started so they can both own the change right from the start.” I told her I thought that was a wonderful idea.

So… any guesses about the critical change component?

Here it is: ALIGNMENT.

In each scenario – the change model worked. The action plan worked. The conversation worked. But the key takeaway was that the leaders themselves needed to be on the same page for the change to be successful.

That’s good news and bad news for the rest of us.

Bad News: Let’s start with the bad news first. If you are a proactive action-taker – your “roll up your sleeves and do it yourself” initiative may actually present a massive change barrier. When change is initiated in a vacuum, it often stays there.

Good News: The good news is rather obvious. We all have the opportunity to collaborate and influence the decisions and actions of others before, during and after each change opportunity. (In fact, we’ve begun recommending our Influence program as a great complement to Leading Change.)

How well are your current change initiatives aligned with other leaders in the organization? I encourage you to take the extra step to share your change rationale and approach and invite the input of others who will make or break the effort. You’ll go a lot further that way.

By the way, here’s our Leading Change Worksheet, if you’d like to use it to get started.

Nathan Magnuson is an executive leadership consultant, coach, facilitator and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting ways Nathan is helping organizations and teams become more effective with Leadership-in-a-Box.