One of the best and most succinct books I’ve read on succeeding under any conditions is ‘Our Iceberg is Melting’ by Harvard Professor John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber; Kotter the well-known thought leader in the fields of business, leadership, and change.
In it they outline an 8 step holistic approach to change, which I’ll now summarise.
1) Create champions with enough power to drive culture change
No one person, no matter how competent, is capable of developing the right vision, communicating it to vast numbers of people, eliminating all of the key obstacles, generating short-term wins, leading and managing dozens of change projects and anchoring new approaches deep in an organisation’s culture.
So instead of just one person, pull together the right mix of people to lead culture change.
2) Create a sense of urgency
Establishing a sense of urgency is necessary to gain the cooperation and effort required to drive significant change. An approach is most likely to fail when it’s purely intellectual, based on a solid business case with a theoretically ‘compelling’ rationale.
Appeal to people’s hearts as well as their minds, connect to their deepest values and inspire them.
3) Develop a vision based on how the future will be different from the past
A clear vision serves three important purposes. First, it simplifies a multitude of more detailed decisions. Second, it motivates people to take action in the right direction, even if the first steps are painful. Third, it helps to coordinate the actions of different people in a remarkably fast and efficient way.
4) Communicate the vision for buy-in
A single memo announcing the transformation, or even a series of speeches by the CEO and the executive team, is never enough. The vision must be communicated anywhere and everywhere and needs to be STICKY to engage the workforce, by that I mean:
Simple – Unexpected – Concrete – Credentialed – Emotional – Story
Remember, actions speak louder than words, and leaders who transform their organisations walk the talk. When an entire team of senior management starts behaving differently and embodies the change they want to see, it sends a powerful message to the entire organisation.
5) Generate short-term wins
The need to get short-term wins adds a great deal of pressure to an organisation in the midst of a culture change programme. However, when done skilfully, the need to create short-term wins can actually increase the sense of true urgency, and actually accomplishing these goals does much to cement the change programme and is evidence of intent.
6) Empower people, remove barriers and unleash people to do their best work.
Accept that, on occasions, mistakes will be made but overall, empowered people will generate a lot of energy and ideas. Otherwise you have a dictatorship!
7) Don’t let up!
The consequences of letting up can be perilous. New behaviours and practices must be driven into your culture to ensure long-term success. Once regression begins, rebuilding momentum is a daunting task.
8) Make it stick
A new culture is a tender seedling that needs nurturing. Every individual who joins the organisation is indoctrinated into its culture, generally without even realising it. The status quo is maintained by the existing tribal needs of the groups within an organisation developed over many years. Tradition, or ‘we’ve always done it this way‘, is a powerful force.
We keep change in place by creating a new, supportive and sufficiently strong organisational culture. And the majority of your organisation must truly embrace the new culture for there to be any chance of success in the long-term.
So where should you begin? First identify the key players, your champions; both from within hierarchical leadership and from those who are influential, non-hierarchical leaders. These important individuals give your new approach to safety the best possible chance of reaching a tipping point.