In 1963, President John F. Kennedy said, “Time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life.” The pace of change is alarmingly fast
today. The global connectedness and
breakthroughs in technology that fuel innovation possibilities simultaneously
create a lack of stability that is for some people confusing and disconcerting. Make no mistake change is inevitable. The challenge is
how to navigate it in a way that minimizes pain and maximizes growth. In a large
organization major change does not happen easily or quickly. There are many forces that can stall it –
inflexible culture, cumbersome bureaucracy, the general human
fear of the unknown. To lead change effectively, we need a
method designed to advance productive ideas, while hurdling these very real barriers.
Doctor John Kotter develop such a method backed by more
than thirty years of study and practical experience. with the endorsement of Harvard Business
Review. In two award-winning books Kotter outlined an
eight step model that guides leaders through the
process of inspiring and implementing successful change. Sometimes managers under pressure to
show results will try to skip a step. But
successful change of any magnitude goes through all eight stages, usually in the sequence
shown. The process can operate in multiple phases at once, but
skipping even a single step or getting too far
ahead without a solid base, almost always creates problems. Kotter’s
model is a proven template for implementing
change. But the real key, the driving force
behind successful change, is leadership, leadership, and more
leadership, along the change journey. This cannot be
overstated. The first critical step is to ensure
people see and understand the need for change. Change is hard, and people are naturally
resistant to it. Change forces us to move away from
what’s familiar and comfortable to something that’s unknown. To overcome
that anxiety people need to believe the cost of complacency is high, that there is genuine danger in the
status quo. Without a sense of urgency, employees
will not grant their personal buy-in, and that is essential to achieving the
results of a major change effort. That takes credible communication, and a
lot of it, from a coalition of trusted leaders. The second step is to assemble that
leadership team. To achieve grassroots acceptance, an alliance of carefully selected
leaders must be identified to steer the process and help people become invested in new
methods or priorities. You’ve probably heard the old adage, “When
it’s everybody’s job, it’s nobody’s job.” Members of this team should have authority and credibility,
and they should possess strong communication skills. This group’s job is to keep information
flowing – to connect everyone in the agency to
what is being planned, why it is important, and how they are
affected. This group also is in charge breaking
down walls that impede progress, and ensuring the powerful forces of inertia are recognized and dealt with. Achieving
a shared commitment to the change process requires two critical components – a compelling
vision and a reasonable plan of action. Step three is all about deciding what to
do and marketing it for buy in. It’s not enough to raise alarm over the
price of doing nothing. To be embraced and supported, ideas for
change must be packaged in a way that paints a positive future, a vision of something fresh and new that’s
better and more exciting than who we are now. As far as content goes, we don’t want
something that is impossibly vague, nor do we want meticulously
detailed. But we do want communicable. Simplicity and clarity are essential. The most effective transformational
visions tend to be ambitious, but achievable. A more
appealing state that takes advantage of trends in technology, but not people. If the guiding leadership
can develop a compelling vision that describes a clear picture of the future and resonates with our core values, they
have a recipe for affective, and enduring change. Of course, a recipe is
not enough. The really hard work comes next – making
it happen. The real powerful of a vision comes when most of the people involved in an enterprise understand and share its goals and
direction. That shared sense of a desirable future
can motivate and coordinate the kinds of actions that create transformation. Gaining that common commitment is never
an easy task. A new vision is a scary proposition.
Leaders have to wrestle with and be a be able to address lots of
questions that naturally arise – What will this mean for me? If I have to
operate differently, can I do it? Will sacrifices be required of me? Does
this plan propose a better future, one I believe we can achieve? All these
questions have to be answered before people let go the status quo. To be convincing, leaders must address
concerns on an emotional level, as well as an intellectual one. The vision message must be communicated
and explained over and over again. The most carefully crafted message
rarely sinks deeply into a person’s consciousness after only one hearing. Our minds are too cluttered, and any communication has to fight
hundreds of other ideas and distractions for attention. Dumping a gallon of information into a
river of routine communication will not get the
job done. The magnitude of this task often
unnerves management. One study suggests the average employee
receives about two million words of communication from her organization in a
quarter. The typical communication of a change
vision on the other hand, consists about fifteen thousand words. Therefore, if rolled out in typical
fashion, the change vision will capture less than one percent of
the corporate communications market share. Yet leaders are often astonished when
people don’t seem to understand the new approach. So it’s important to refine the message
and repeat it multiple times through different means. Meetings, videos, posters, conference calls,
one-on-one talks… When the same message comes at people
from five different directions, it stands a better chance of being heard and
remembered. Look for ways to tie the vision back to
people’s daily activities, ever mindful of the need to remove
barriers that stand in the way of its acceptance. And always, always walk the talk. If leaders don’t communicate the vision
through behavior as well as words, it has no chance to succeed. The final point to make about
communicating vision is this: the time and energy required for
effective vision communication are directly related to the simplicity and
clarity of the message. Communication works best when it is so
direct and so simple that it has a sort of elegance. This requires great clarity of thought
because it’s much harder to be clear and concise, than it is to be over complicated and
wordy. Assuming we have achieved a groundswell
acceptance and buy-in for the vision, the next two steps are connected to
empowerment and celebration. Empowerment is one of
those trendy buzz words, but the idea is
important. It’s about helping more people to become
actively involved in the outcome, making decisions, choosing their own
actions, applying their skills, and directly contributing. Major internal transformation rarely
occurs unless many people assist. The encouragement and freedom for each
person to play a part within his or her circle of influence can go a long way to building enthusiasm
across all lines of the organization. This is also the point at which it becomes
crucial to identify and deal with mid-level managers who are not
on board. So the process is now well underway with
significant momentum, but it’s important not to let up here.
This is the point where it becomes crucial to infuse new
energy for the final push. The best tool for that purpose is the
short term win. Short term wins are important because
major change takes time and some people tire of the process. Zealous believers will stay the course
no matter what, but most of us need to see convincing
evidence that all this effort is paying off. People want to see
clear data that the changes are working out before they
join in. A good short term win has four
characteristics: it’s visible, it’s unambiguous, it’s clearly related to the change
effort, and it’s genuine, not a gimmick. When a restructure
promises savings in 12 months and they happened, that’s a win. If a format change results favorable
customer feedback, that’s a win. The point is something
beneficial and tangible needs to be realized and shared in about six to 12 months. Wins reinforce the goal, reminding people
what we’re trying to do together and why it’s important. Celebrating progress builds further
momentum. These wins also test the vision against
real conditions and results, and they undermine the efforts cynics and
detractors. Getting this far through these first six
phases is a significant achievement, but in
order to create practices that become part of the agency’s DNA, there are almost always a few more
cultural walls to blast through. The short term wins are extremely
important and valuable, but we have not yet reached the finish
line. Until change practices have been driven
into the culture, they are very fragile. If urgency is lost now, the forces of
complacency and tradition can sweep back in with remarkable speed. Organizations have many interdependent
parts. Somewhere along the line, questions arise
about the need for all the interdependence. If unchecked or mismanaged, questions can
stir unhealthy anger and resistance. But if
channeled properly, these inquiries can be helpful. They can spur additional change and
improvement. They can help the agency sort out which
interdependencies are the result of history and not the current reality, building
even more support for the innovation vision. And in a world where change is
increasingly the norm rather than the exception, a little house cleaning can make future
reorganizing efforts or strategic shifts less difficult. This again is where leadership is
invaluable. Leaders who are outstanding change
agents think long-term. They stay focused on the future. They
take the time to ensure new practices are really working, to make adjustments where needed, to
involve people at every level, and to communicate how and why these
changes are making us better. And effective leaders do not let up
until these practices are firmly anchored into the organization’s culture. Culture refers to norms of behavior and
shared values among a group of people. They are common ways of acting, and
they persist because they are practiced regularly by the group and passed on to
new members, rewarding those who fit in and
penalizing those who don’t. Organizational culture is powerful for at
least three reasons: first, it exerts itself through the
actions have many people; second, the system sees to it that
individuals are selected and indoctrinated well; and third, it all happens outside of
people’s awareness or consciousness intent and thus it’s difficult to challenge. The secret is to graft new practices on
to the old roots, while pruning the inconsistent pieces. In the case at the National Weather
Service, we have a great history with deep roots in a proud tradition. It is absolutely critical that any
change initiative is aimed at building on that tradition, not
replacing it or casting it aside. The Weather Ready Nation initiative does
just that. It recognizes the need for change while
acknowledging what we have always done well. And it
offers concrete ideas for bridging us to tomorrow in a way that maintains that
place of prominence we have earned in the hearts and minds of Americans. Culture change is the caboose of the
process. It comes last because it depends on
long-term results. Actions have to produce tangible group
benefits for a period of time. People must see and feel the connections
between the new behavior and better performance, and if it is to
stick promotion practices and succession
decisions must be compatible with the new practices. It’s clear by now that this business of
culture change can be challenging and messy. Many business management textbooks
devote entire chapters to defining culture and identify components that
determine whether it’s healthy or dysfunctional. Here’s one that is simple and direct.
Culture is about long-standing habits in the way people treat and interact with
one another. A healthy culture is one that is
effectively lead, continually looking to improve, and
adaptable to change. You can contribute in a positive and
meaningful way to changing the culture at the National Weather Service. Just remember culture happens slowly, day
by day, as leaders who understand the process
reinforce the urgency, articulate a clear picture of a better
future, and connect people to that vision. By acting together to achieve those
common goals we can reach the finish line and ensure
the National Weather Service is perceived and supported as a
world-class science-based service organization that
adds real value to a Weather Ready Nation. That is a cultural transformation worth
pursuing.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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