Leading Change vs. Announcing It

Barry Goldberg on Leadership

Leading Change vs. Announcing It

Hollywood loves images of leaders making courageous, in-the-moment decisions about change. The scenes must be fun to write, as they abound in film and television. Need a couple of examples? Try these on YouTube:

► “The American President”

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► “The Newsroom”

What those inspiring moments in films and plays do not show is the struggle required to make those moments of integrity and emotional courage gain traction and come to fruition. Courageous, inspiring moments do not create lasting change — not without well-crafted planning to go with them.

Hollywood assumes that the announcement of a sea change in direction, a new initiative or a “war” on a serious issue will absolutely come to fruition. Leaders of major change projects who do not understand the power of inertia and even active resistance to change are generally doomed to failure. Resistance is anything but futile — it is one of the most pervasive and powerful aspects of the modern highly connected email-infused company. Resistance to change is expensive, disruptive and pervasive at all levels of an organization.

I spent a decade in my consulting career teaching a methodology for enterprise-level change projects. My focus was on understanding what would be needed to take a compelling vision of the future and bring it through the gauntlet of project killers to become a new reality. The good news is that a clear and desirable vision of the future is a powerful anchor to leeward. Alas, most TV versions assume that strong will and a powerful announcement of the project, initiative or future direction will carry the day. Leaders know that the big announcement is just the beginning. Making the announcement of a new direction to employees, investors, customers and even Wall Street without a clear and vetted plan for the transition is asking for trouble.

Unfortunately, most planning processes are done on a Gantt chart. If you are planning a strategic initiative, please put a poster on the wall to remind yourself early and often: Project management tools are not suitable for leading change. 

Instead, begin by creating a picture of how the organization will operate in the new reality. Do that by spending time reinventing key processes, mapping customer and employee interactions. If need be, go into a studio, hire actors and film what the most common and critical interactions should look like in the new reality you wish to build. Then deconstruct those videos frame by frame to understand what would have to happen to create that ideal interaction. Training? Hiring? Information systems? One company that adopted this process for a major change not only found it a powerful way to plan, but the videos created to model the new customer-facing processes became the centerpiece of retraining the organization.

On the day a leader stands in front of their organization, the press, customers, vendors, voters or any other important stakeholders to announce a new future, strategy, project or even point of view, they will be more powerful, more credible and more confident if they are clear on what will be required to deliver the change. Hollywood is great at fooling us into believing that the decision to undertake a “big, hairy, audacious goal” can be dreamed up in an hour. But the cameras are not there for the messy part of implementing change.

I. Barry Goldberg of Little Rock is a credentialed leadership and executive coach. He trained for coaching at Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership.