Effective Change Happens BEFORE Change Occurs

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I stayed with my Uncle on a business trip to OH the last couple days (we save money wherever we can! :-).

He used to be a C130 pilot in Vietnam, a Colonel in the Airforce, a program manager at Rockwell/Boeing, and is now an MBA professor. In the Airforce he managed a team that acccepted 8,000 page, $5B proposals, and when he went to Boeing he created these proposals. Obviously a $5B project in any organization brings about a tremendous amount of change, on either side. In our many discussions he brought up a great reminder on effective change management and leadership…

Most change slows down when you have to spend so much time cleaning up and handling crisis management at the back end of the change program that was improperly planned.

Smart change management is spending the right time up front to ‘ready the ship’ to accept the change, thus allowing it flow more smoothly and quickly through the organization.

I remember this lesson from launching customer segmentation marketing at Dell. For the first few months I made little progress at getting other functions to change the way we did business. They had to change their process, their measure of success, and accept a new way of doing things from outside their function. It wasn’t until I formed a ‘council’, got executives from other functions involved, got buyin from the top and bottom, that the program moved forward (relatively) smoothly.

This principle also reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago on what makes a "Word of Mouth Company", outlining a more effective prioritization of spending capital for sustainable growth. Spend the time and resources creating a great product, and you won’t have to spend as much downstream on marketing and customer service.

4 Responses

  1. Nice post on the need to proactively prepare for change. I have seen many people treat it as a line item on a project plan, “change management” — thinking of it simply as a communication workstream. In reality, particularly for larger-scale change in an organization, change is deeply personal and must be dealt with at the individual level. In today’s world of cost cutting and reductions, the typical first response from an individual will be “do I have a job?”. Once this question is answered effectively, an individual can move to “how does it affect me?” then to “what can I do to help?”.

  2. Adam Salamon says:

    Great post, Sam. I think we all tend to fall in the trap of wanting change without setting the proper structures in place. From the outside, it just looks much easier that way. This is an interesting lesson and something I will definitely keep in mind for the future.

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  4. Chris Bailey says:

    Sam, this is a lesson that should be the preface to any change initiative enacted by an organization. The proper setup is so important because momentum is a fragile thing. If you have to go back and rectify something that could have been planned more carefully, you take a major risk at losing momentum, and then losing your buy-in. Great example from your uncle.

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