In my last blog, I discussed the question: “Do you have what it takes to stay the course?” Well, it takes extraordinary levels of courage, determination, and faith to take on a bold change initiative, stay the course and see it through. In this blog (part two of three) I want to delve a bit deeper into what it actually takes and what you should expect it you take on such a bold endeavor.
If you commit to creating and fulfilling a bold next-level future for your team or organization, the universe will test and challenge your courage and resolve. You can count on it!
At first, you will have to invest ten units of effort to drive one unit of progress. It will feel like struggle and hardship; like pushing a rock up a steep mountain. The universe will send obstacles and barriers your way, and only after you have proven that you can stay the course no matter what, things will ease up and you will start experiencing more positive progress, improvement, and momentum toward your vision.
W.H. Murray, the Scottish Himalayan Expedition leader of 1950 put it quite vividly:
“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”
If you don’t understand, expect and prepare for this dynamic your chances to succeed are slim. Unfortunately, I have seen too many change initiatives start out with so much promise and enthusiasm only to fail through a slow and painful death exactly for this reason – lack of understanding, anticipation, and preparation for the obstacles and how to overcome them.
So, what are the key obstacles that will challenge your ability to stay the course when transforming your organization to the next level, and how do you overcome them?
I have identified six barriers that I have repeatedly seen over many years of transforming organizations (no particular order). I am going to share two of these in this blog and four more next week. These barriers are distinct from each other but they are closely related:
Barrier 1: Not tolerating a temporary dip in performance and/or results:
Consider this rare and true example: I was coaching a sales team of a technology company, in which team members felt extremely overworked and stressed. People worked long hours, including weekends and holidays to meet their numbers and needless to say “work-life-balance” was a big issue.
The General Manager of that organization, who was a bold, demanding but fair leader, came out with an edict to transform his team’s predicament: “no one was allowed to work past 8pm on weekdays or at any time on the weekend.” He made it clear that everyone was still expected to deliver their numbers, and that offenders of his new rule would be punished. At first, people were shocked and many were skeptical. However, after firing the first person that violated his new policy people started to take notice.
In the first month, the team missed its numbers by 20%. Everyone expected the General Manager to cancel his “unrealistic” policy, but he didn’t. In the second month, the results were still around 10% blow and only in month three the team met its number. But, what happened after that was quite extraordinary. Not only did the team start to exceed their numbers on a frequent basis, but the overall energy, commitment, and dialogue of the team shifted to be much more productive and powerful, and more oriented around how to do more with less.
Unfortunately, this example is indeed rare. Most leaders can’t tolerate even the slightest temporary dip in performance. They panic at the first sign of a dip, and they often react in negative ways that set the team back and send a message that they don’t have the courage and faith to stay the course.
When you take on creating and fulfilling a new future there is a high likelihood that things will get worst before they get better. It’s not a slogan. You have to expect it.
If you can’t tolerate this dynamic you will keep returning backward instead of pushing forward to overcome this barrier. The good news, however, is that if you do stay the course and reach the other side of this barrier, things will get even better than they were before you started.
Barrier 2: Making the focus on continuing the existing activities a higher priority than the focus on generating the new future:
At the outset of change initiatives pretty much all leaders declare that creating a new future for the company and taking the game to the next level is “mission critical.” However, unfortunately in most cases, it doesn’t take much or long before leaders get spooked by the uncertainty of the transition from the old to the new, and they start paying lip service to their own declaration. They start behaving in a way that makes it obvious to people around them that the new future is a “nice to have.”
The remedy is simple, stay the course! Stay true to your declaration and commitment, do what you said, and keep promoting, driving and demanding actions and behaviors that are consistent with the new future. Don’t get distracted by the temporary confusion, uncertainty, doubts and the roller coaster of emotions that people experience in the change journey.
Don’t miss next week’s blog where I share four more barriers to transformation.