Apply the FIRE approach to change

change ahead signWhen managing change, don’t confuse stability for static. As Maj. Pete Mastro of the U.S. Air Force wisely noted, static situations do not change while stable systems effectively absorb change.

When leading a change campaign, strive for stability throughout the process. That way, you and your team can withstand forces beyond your control and keep advancing toward your goal.

Mastro observes that aircraft in stable flight patterns still face constant change. Winds, clouds and other airplanes pose challenges to pilots, but they’re able to maintain stability by adjusting their altitude, speed or heading accordingly.

A static airplane, by contrast, gets mounted on a pedestal in a museum. It doesn’t move.

Some pilots—and leaders—struggle to maintain stability amid changing conditions. In the cockpit, instability occurs when air turbulence overpowers the pilot’s ability to adapt.

When overseeing change in your organization, look to maintain stability even when pelted with obstacles. Anticipate a range of scenarios and take action to mitigate damage.

One of the best ways to reduce the most severe bumps caused by change is to think in terms of what Dan Ward, an Air Force lieutenant colonel, calls the FIRE approach. Seek fast, inexpensive, restrained and elegant steps to solve problems.

Resist the urge to overload too much cost or complexity in a change initiative. It’s better to prune it down, keep it simple and lead people to embrace a core concept that’s easy for them to understand.

— Adapted from FIRE, Dan Ward, Harper Business.