Managing change is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult tasks you’ll face as a leader.
It’s also one that comes at you almost daily.
I’ve always followed Kotter’s eight-step model, though not quite dogmatically, of course.
I’ve also tried to take shortcuts, and people who know me know that the saying I learned during that time – “the grass doesn’t grow faster if you pull on it” – is absolutely true.
Grass doesn’t grow faster, even if you pull on it.
I very painfully learned that it doesn’t, because I pulled on that grass quite hard. It didn’t do any good. It didn’t grow any faster.
The basic prerequisite for the successful implementation of change management processes, change management projects, and any kind of change project is:
- The majority of co-workers must be behind it.
- They must actively support the changes you want to bring about.
- The first step is always to convince all your colleagues that it’s necessary, urgent, and it has to be done now.
It is then all the more difficult—a real mammoth task—when the company is doing well, or at least the co-workers believe it is doing well.
I once ran a company where everyone was happy and celebrating themselves in their successes. Regardless of how realistic that was, the numbers were not shared with the co-workers. Then I arrived there with the task from the shareholder: “This has to change now.” It was a difficult task because everyone was on the island of bliss and thought they were the best.
And rightly so, because the management had previously been “in charge,” as the saying goes, and gave them this feeling. At the same time, it can be quite important and right to give co-workers the feeling that they are on the right track.
They may have been on track, for the strategy that was originally in place, but that strategy didn’t work out.
Now I had the thankless task of telling happy co-workers who were spoiled for success that some things were not right and that we urgently needed to change.
I first had to create a sense of urgency.
That’s when we did the following calculation: How much revenue do we generate, what is left over, and what are the costs? We then communicated that to the co-workers in a very transparent way.
That was a tough situation because you don’t want to panic people, but we communicated what was actually left over at the end of the day. That, by the way, is less than the salary that the company had to pay them.
That did shock some people.
But it also convinced mission-critical employees that something had to be done now.
I would like to give another example of how to communicate urgency.
This one was a company in the travel industry. For those who remember, a few years ago, a wave of terrorism swept across the planet, causing vacation destinations to have the following problem: anything that was in the Non-European-Mediterranean was no longer booking as well, and anything that was on the European part of the Mediterranean (Majorca, Spain, etc.) was still booking very well.
Unfortunately, of course, we had substantial money in the package sector with Turkey, with Tunisia, all these really, very nice vacation countries.
And that was a problem at that time.
However, this didn’t cause the team to think about it and see a need for change. People continued to work as if nothing was wrong. That’s why we looked at the figures and presented a transparent picture of the Eastern and Southern Mediterranean sales impact.
This made it clear that we would be in a difficult position and that no one knew how this could be solved—in short, we had to think and rethink our sales strategy to determine how to compensate for this.
And beyond that—that would be more of a tactical measure—we had to ask ourselves a question. How do we get into a position to arm ourselves against such things in principle, so that we don’t let months go by again before realizing, “Man, now we’re in a bad situation.” Instead, we need to deal with emerging problems immediately.
Countermeasures must be taken independently.
By using shock therapy—so to speak—with my colleagues, we succeeded in conveying a sense of urgency so that we could first get the ear of the co-workers. This enabled us to reschedule together with them.
Why is a sense of urgency important for change?
A sense of urgency is vital because meaningful organizational change cannot happen without the commitment of the co-workers affected. Therefore, creating a sense of urgency for a needed change is the first step leaders must take to get everyone engaged.
You can create a sense of urgency by either painting a more positive picture of the future or even portraying the status quo as dangerous. You must succeed in explaining to your team why it is not in their best interest to keep things as they are.
This is often done through open discussions about the current market and competitive realities. Sharing relevant financial and customer data and discussing opportunities and crises facing the team are essential.
Communication is critical, and communication about the urgent need for change must be honest. An artificially created sense of urgency will soon be revealed for what it is, and you will be doomed to failure.
How to create a sense of urgency with the team:
There are several steps you can take to create a sense of urgency and gain everyone’s commitment.
- You need to demonstrate seriousness for the change to come.
- You need to share bad news with your team.
- You need numbers, data, and facts to support your thesis that change is necessary.
- Your job is to make sure you do what you say you will do (i.e., be credible).
Clear and honest communication that creates a sense of urgency is needed, rather than a sense of doom. This means you should communicate a compelling picture of an optimistic future but also the danger of accepting the status quo. This dramatically improves your chances of gaining your co-workers’ commitment to a needed change.
By creating a sense of urgency, your team will understand why change is no longer optional.