We enjoy traveling as a family and have driven thousands of miles from Michigan through much of the United States and as far as Acapulco, Mexico! While traveling long distances isn’t easy or always pleasant, in the end every journey is an adventure we all enjoy and remember with fondness. Our children have become accustomed to long road trips and look forward to each new adventure. Everyone helps with the planning and preparation. We all accept the fact that we will be driving for a long time in a car with some inconvenience but that the expected outcome offsets the hassles common to long road trips (which are many!).
But for a long journey to be successful and enjoyable, we have to have 1) a good reason to travel, 2) a destination everyone wants to go to, and 3) a good plan to get there.
Similarly, organizational change is a journey that is often long, inconvenient, and almost always uncomfortable. Not surprisingly, people often reject going on such a journey. But there are ways to prepare for a good change journey. Here are three simple (not always easy) strategies for preparing for your next change journey:
- Have a clear reason for the change. Unless people see and agree with the reason for the change, it will difficult of them to support the change. This requires that people understand where they are and why the status quo is undesirable. One way to do this is to ask two simple questions: “What is the benefit or opportunity if we successfully complete this journey?” and “What would be the negative consequences of not taking the journey at all?” Discussing these questions with leaders and those involved in the change will create what is often called a sense of urgency. The greater the urgency the better.
- Articulate the destination. It is critical to get enough people to ‘see’ the destination and want go there for the change initiative to get critical mass. I often help clients achieve this through the use of a visual collage where people have an opportunity to ‘visualize‘ and create a vivid picture of the future state. Destinations can be communicated but they are more attractive and compelling when they are visualized. This creates excitement and anticipation.
- Craft a believable and reasonable roadmap. Let’s face it. No matter how desirable the destination, change journeys are hard. Leaders must be honest and transparent about what it is going to take. It is better for people to know upfront and prepare for what the investment will be rather than feel surprised and cheated when they realize what the cost of the change was. In addition to a solid project plan, one activity every change journey should include is a solid stakeholder assessment. This assessment should provide data about 1) how different stakeholders will be affected or impacted, 2) what their perceived gains or wins might be, and 3) what their perceived losses or concerns might be. This assessment can then inform and guide strategies that can enable and facilitate the change journey. Lastly, make sure your roadmap specifies clear targets, planned rest points, and ways to celebrate even small successes.
As with long road trips, people in organizations can get used to effective change journeys. It takes effective preparation and execution. It takes practice and repetition. Eventually, people can become accustomed to the journey, anticipate it, and become involved and engaged in the process. After all, no one wants to travel in a car full of people moaning and complaining the entire trip, while crying ‘are we there yet?’