When you take on a bold initiative or outcome most of the time in the beginning people will be excited about it. They will envision and imagine the new and improved future state with all its benefits to both the company and them. Hope will be high, and many will genuinely believe that they will make things better. They will also get excited in the beginning by seeing their leaders genuinely committed to the change and open to everyone’s engagement and contribution toward it.
But like in a marriage, after a while, the honeymoon period will be over, and you will have to keep regenerating and refueling people’s energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to the cause. You will have to keep enrolling your people and reminding them why the change is important, what the new future will look like and what possibilities and benefits it holds for the company and for them.
Keeping the engagement, energy, and excitement up will become especially difficult when you have to execute. At first, people will be expected to juggle both their existing day job objectives whilst also spending more and more time driving the new initiatives and tasks that eventually will propel the organization toward its new future. It is inevitable that people will have to work harder without easily seeing the progress and return of their efforts.
If you are lucky, you can hire a few additional people to support the new initiatives. However, in most cases, the reality is that you can’t go out and hire an additional crew to work on the new stuff while the current team continues to work on the existing things. The same people have to do both, and for a period of time, so the people will feel stretched and overwhelmed.
Most change initiatives fail in this phase, because of these exact reasons.
It takes a tremendous amount of foresight, courage, determination and sustaining power to see change initiatives through. Most leaders don’t have what it takes; a powerful and rare combination of compassion and ruthlessness.
You can’t ignore people’s pains and complaints. In fact, you have to listen, acknowledge the challenges and keep thinking out of the box of ways to eliminate the obstacles and reduce the strains by doing things differently, including motivating and incentivizing people appropriately in this transition.
It is critical in this phase to keep highlighting and recognizing any and all progress, wins and improvements, even small ones. This will help people to stay optimistic and hopeful about the change.
However, you also can’t buy into people’s complaints. You can’t compromise on the key principles and expectations of the change. If people see that you don’t have the courage and resolve they will lose faith in you and the process.
A technology company that was struggling with their performance set out on a bold change initiative to take their sales performance, market share, culture and brand to a new level. The senior leaders were all on board and excited to go.
They set some aspirational goals and engaged their middle managers to come on board with them. Everything was going well, and everyone was excited about the new direction.
But when they started to execute on their new initiative reality kicked in and leaders and managers found themselves confronted with all the extra work required to drive both their existing core business and their new initiatives.
The senior leaders who initiated the change became the biggest issue. They started to drop the ball – arriving late to initiative meetings and not keeping promised deadlines. In fact, they were the ones who complained the most
Unfortunately, instead of the CEO holding his leaders to account and demanding they role model leadership behavior, and despite his declarations to the contrary, he bought into his leaders’ complaints and tolerated their lack of leadership commitment and integrity. Eventually, the managers became discouraged too, and that was the end of that change!
In contrast, the CEO of a different struggling service company also took on a performance turnaround change initiative. The CEO was a bold and inspiring leader. He made big changes that upset many of his leaders and team members. He remained very ‘in tune’ and ‘in touch’ with the sentiments of his organization throughout the process, but he didn’t budge from his initial mission and he demanded his leaders to do the same.
To make a long story short, at first, people loved him because he was going to save the company. During the execution phase, people hated him because he was ruthless and relentless about delivery and execution deadlines. However, when his changes started to take root and pay off from a results standpoint, people regained their sense of pride and accomplishment and with that followed a great deal of respect for their fearless leader.
Unfortunately, most leaders give up too quickly. But, if you don’t want to be included in that statistic, don’t get discouraged after the first wave of enthusiasm and excitement wears off: