Every manager, consultant or employee dealing with corporate change projects is aware of the main driver of sustainable change: the „sense of urgency„.
Why is sense of urgency important?
To initiate a change in behavior or action there must be the insight that the way things were done or thought about in the past cannot be the same in the future. The urgency to change is not necessarily diagnosed or initiated by top management. They might not even be aware of the dissonance in management culture, business models or environmental factors.
As the change guru John P. Kotter points out in an interview at the Harvard Business Review, the sense of urgency can be initiated at every hierarchical or organizational level and is even very often based on a gut feeling.
It’s all about determination
From my point of view, true urgency is about determination. Sustainable change, especially in huge corporations, can’t be based on fear or anxiety nor on hesitation or hope. Only true determination can go this long way.
It is a fact that most corporations have several small or big changes going on. Some are even contradictory to each other or they change direction within a relatively short period of time.
What can managers do if the „wind of change“ is a whirlwind?
(Middle) managers are expected to „lean in“ (thank you, Sharyl Sandberg) whenever a change project is started. The sense of urgency is artificially created by showing hectic activity, endless talks about the issue and management pressure (Kotter calls this „false urgency“).
This does not only lead to frustration within an organization but – even worse – indifference. False urgency will make an organization immune towards real needs of change.
A speech for „lean back“
For a successful change culture allow your managers to lean back from time to time and admit, that they cannot actively support a change program. It will strengthen the change culture and the company’s ability to be aware of real and future oriented moves. Yeah-sayers are unlikely to be great change agents.
Quite the contrary: it is important for a managers own personal credibility to lean back if she or he feels absolutely uncomfortable with a change project. Allow them to step back for a while instead of expecting anticipatory obedience.
Author: Sandra Aengenheyster
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