Challenge the process. Challenge the system thinking. Challenge the norm. Change is rarely easy. It's frequently rejected and feared. Not surprisingly, as any large organization or process grows, it tends to revert to less risky actions and behaviors. The organization is also less willing to accept new ideas; especially those that fall outside of a typical process framework. Similarly, as leaders develop in their careers, they often revert to safe mode versus challenge mode in fear of risking their future on career-limiting moves. People are naturally averse to change, in fear of breaking something that is working, upsetting the political apple cart, or hurting those that developed the process initially. The natural reaction to change is resistance.
Challenge always precedes any sort of extraordinary change and the status quo will always push back on your big "change" ideas. But in order to initiate extraordinary change, the process must be challenged. Leaders must bring creativity and innovation into play when outlining new methods of doing things differently, thus providing new fuel to a brand, product, process, or strategic idea.
Consider the following scenario. We were pursuing a business opportunity with a major retailer. It was an opportunity that could clearly generate several million dollars in incremental revenue and gross profit for the retailer's business. However, the retailer declined numerous invitations to meet with us. Instead, they provided many excuses and were slow to respond to calls and emails. They refused to coordinate calendars or even review the opportunity. We were then told, "Our business is going so well that nobody wants to try anything new, or be open to change. Nobody wants to disturb anything because we are growing, opening stores, and generating great financial results. Nobody wants to be the one that did something wrong."Shocking ... but not surprising. If you are not open to new growth opportunities, you will never realize any incremental financial or qualitative wins that come from trying something new.
Another example can often be found in the management of successful brands. As a brand manager, there is a pervasive fear of doing anything to mess it up, as opposed to trying new strategies for differentiating and growing the brand. The brand manager often instills his or her own fear roadblocks into the situation that often prevent experimentation and trial of new strategies that could lead to significant growth.
As the leader of a team, organization, or group, it is your responsibility to set the pace and establish the change tolerance guardrails within which the team should operate. When you recognize and celebrate actions that have driven change, those actions and behaviors will not only be repeated, but will also be followed by others who were more hesitant to be bold. BRINGING IT TO LIFE ◙◙ Be Out In Front: As the leader driving change, be ahead of the change process. Recognize that change begins with something new, a triggering event, or a strategic decision. The team and/or organization will typically walk through the denial, fear, anxiety, and misdirected energy phases before hitting a solid state of transition. The final phases of any major change are acceptance, trust, and execution. Typically, every team experiences these phases. What's different is the amount of time spent in each phase, and how leadership influences that time. Are you helping your team navigate through change quickly? Or are you stifling change out of fear? ◙◙ Be Clear On Why: If you are going to drive big change, you must be very clear as to why it makes sense in your vision. It may not be as obvious to others. The business case for change may go beyond numbers and bottom lines, and may truly be a qualitative benefit. If you are leading change, you must be grounded in your vision as to why it makes sense. You will be the one casting the vision. Know why it is a priority and why you are going to lead it. Are you able to clearly articulate the reason for the change? If not, why should anyone feel compelled to follow you? ◙◙ Expect Roadblocks: The organization or team will naturally acquiesce and push for things to remain the same. They may formally and informally place roadblocks in the way of progress. These could be in the form of delays in responding or appealing to senior executives as to why the status quo is a better option. What's your plan for anticipating and dealing with roadblocks? A good change plan is always enabled by a good strategic communication plan. How is your communication plan structured? ◙◙ Take It Off-Road: Inevitably, if you are a high-octane performer, you are going to take it off-road. Explore new paths to achieve the vision. Do things differently. Introduce big change or new thinking. Provide coaching and a level of transparent communication that are outside of company standards. The trick is to challenge the system without bursting through organizational guardrails. Are you taking it off-road or are you settling for the status quo? ◙◙ When You Take It Off-Road, Take The High Road: When you do take it off-road, be sure to take the high road by making the right decisions for your internal customers and your business. That way you will ensure that you maintain the level of trust developed with your customers and colleagues. Are you acting with the best interests of your people and your organization in mind?