You need both common sense and humility to send your people into the unknown.
Adapt this 10-point checklist to keep them moving forward:
- Create a case for change. Define the problem using direct language. Do this yourself, and be clear about the magnitude of the challenge. After presenting forward-looking analysis, paint a picture of what the organization can become. Don’t worry about details; they’ll come later.
- Set a target. Be aggressive. Incremental approaches rarely work.
- Make sure your top people are on board. Everyone on the team, and then the entire organization, should have a stake in the change. Don’t hang the skeptics; their alarm is an indication that they care. If you work out their concerns, they can become your allies.
- Launch a program for change. One company asked its managers for a one-page description of why they should be on the transformation team. More than 10 people applied for every open position, meaning they understood that the cross-functional team was for real. The team then debated the program and corrected flaws.
- Increase capacity first, cut costs later. Creating something new always feels more hopeful than cutting back, so begin with building skills.
- Share “moments of truth.” These revelatory incidents or events highlight what needs to change. One leadership team decided that its members needed to quit passing the buck, and made a show of conferring amnesty. Over the next few months, they made a point of accepting responsibility in their everyday work, which created a fragile trust.
- Fill out the plan’s details. Although the plan is coordinated at the top, the details should be developed and executed at the front lines.
- Pay attention to timing. When you’re phasing out obsolete functions, employees should transfer or take early retirement before the work streams are cut. This shifts employees’ focus from feeling the loss to adapting.
- Keep talking. should remain blunt but flexible about the imperatives for change. External communication needs to generate excitement.
- Sustain changes. It’s easy to regress, so stay vigilant, don’t declare victory too soon and keep improving.
— Adapted from “Exercising Common Sense,” Gary Neilson and Jack McGrath, strategy+business.
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