[Bus Stop Conversations] Quick Notes on How Things Work: Making Change Happen

The conversation with fellow grade-school parent Amy Eliot at the bus stop this morning could have been anywhere about any company or organization: it just happened to be about the grade school our kids attend. The lessons on what works apply to all.

There is no shortage of good research and study on change and how to accelerate it. Rossabeth Moss Kanter,  author of Change Masters is a great place to start for contemporary work. William Bridges provides all of us with some simple (not simplistic) ways of thinking about change and transition. Research will also show you that change management done poorly destroys resilience, (see Gary Hamel & Liisa Valikangus, The Quest For Resilience ) and that change done well promotes resilience.

Without doing a deep dive on work similar to work I’ve done with clients, what are 10 things you want to have on your radar as you work through change – in this case a thought to take a great group of teachers and staff and over time move to a great group of staff and teachers that are also more diverse?

  1. It helps to have a nod from the top: though it’s pretty clear from research that top down change directives just don’t work like they historically used to (if they ever really did), having approval – even tacit – gives you some tailwind to make some things happen.
  2. While the nod from the top helps, you better figure out a way to engage people up and down the hierarchical food chain. Being able to answer “what’s in it for me” for people in your sleep goes a long way.
  3. Be very clear and thoughtful about where you want to end up: more tears shed by answered prayers than unanswered prayers is one of our household’s mantras. Taking a full measured gaze to understand as much of the impact as you can is something to do carefully up front.
  4. Understand the impact and after-effects of the change fully from the participants point of view. Lots of consultants do work in the change arena with clients, and then have the luxury of going home at night and forgetting about it. In more cases than not they’d do different if they had to sleep with the changes they’ve put in motion.
  5. What are both the processes and behavioral culture that need to change: how can you make things both simpler and better? If it’s harder and less beneficial change attempts that are meant to be durable have the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of sticking.
  6. Figure out how to make the change easiest for people. Rolling your own sleeves and doing most of the heavy lifting to get things done would be one place I’d start.
  7. Make changes durable: take more thought about how any change will really work. Humans are great, but being creatures of habit it helps to make the changes easy peasy: Dan and Chip Heath’s work Made to Stick would be something I’d have as guide for how I describe and communicate elements of change to people.
  8. Look for big victories and look for small victories: both count a lot when you’re trying to move a team or larger group(s).
  9. Execution and communication counts: tell people what you’re going to do, do it, and tell people what you’ve done.
  10. Be patient: people who engineer change always have a higher tolerance for change than people on whom it’s being inflicted. People change at different rates.

As a big-time creature of routines, change is not something I look for first thing in the morning. Advance notice, engagement, understanding, and communication are all keys to having things work well when the change involves me.