Too often we forget the basics. And we pay dearly for it.

One of the basics of a successful lean transformation, heck any transformation, is change management. When it comes to stuff like that, I defer to the experts for insight into the “how.”

John P. Kotter, author of Leading Change and A Sense of Urgency and co-author of several other great books, is a change management, or should I say change leadership, expert.  Kotter identifies an eight-stage process for creating major change. There’s obviously a lot to discuss behind each one of the stages, but for now, the list is a great start.

  1. Establishing a sense of urgency,
  2. Creating a guiding coalition,
  3. Developing a vision and strategy,
  4. Communicating the change vision,
  5. Empowering broad-based action,
  6. Generating short-term wins,
  7. Consolidating gains and producing more change, and
  8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture.

It’s great stuff and hard to argue against any of it, in total or at the elemental level.  But, lean leaders routinely fail (I’m guilty) to follow this game plan (or other proven change management game plans by folks like Daryl R. Conner). I believe that there are a handful of reasons for this lack of adherence, including:

  • Degree of difficulty (and/or leadership impatience). Change is hard (one of my better statements of the obvious). Applying the rigor of a proven multi-step process, in the short-term, just seems to make it harder and delays getting into the action of changing processes, value streams. organization structures, etc.  Q: Isn’t there a short-cut? A: Not if you want to be successful.
  • Lack of humility. This can be translated as, “I know what I’m doing…I don’t need no stinkin’ process.” Of course, you never actually hear people say that, they just act that way.
  • Drift. At the launch of any sort of transformation, everything is shiny and new – full of hope…and I dare say, the promise of change. But, shortly after the launch, things can get very messy.  Even if an organization applies best practices to optimize the chance of success from the perspective of learning and leverage while managing technical and human resource related risks, there will be no shortage of  problems. Amidst the fog of issues and challenges, it is very easy to lose one’s change leadership bearings. Urgency can make leaders “forget” or procrastinate when it comes to living the basics of change leadership.

So, what to do? Study what the masters of change leadership teach relative to strategy and technology.  Apply the rigor and build it into the overall implementation plan relative to timing, level of effort and ownership  (for example, provide yourself and your team with the requisite time to develop a vision and strategy). Religiously conduct frequent formal and informal PDCA checkpoints to keep yourself on track and to identify necessary adjustments. Use an external coach to keep everyone honest.

Change leadership is hard enough. Don’t handicap yourself and your organization by ignoring best practices.

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