Get on the “change train”

It’s rolling down the tracks and you don’t want to be left behind.

For any of you who know me well, you know that I hate metaphors. They tend to break down and when they do, they are worse than useless. That being said, there is a time and place for the limited use of metaphors. Especially with concepts like change, comparing our ubiquitous evolutionary imperative to make things better and thrive in our constantly changing environment in our lives and in our workplaces to a frog in a pot of boiling water or a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly are meaningful and they spark creative and enduring mental models to frame the change process.

In-line with concepts like Moore’s law, that technological growth doubles every two years, we understand the change is inevitable and is occurring at a faster pace than ever in our digital society. As a young Air Force officer, I used to read histories about the evolution of Air Power in conflicts starting with the use of balloons as spotting platforms and evolving to the hi-tech computer-integrated and stealth capabilities that we have developed in the last few decades. Taking a step back and looking at change over a larger span of time shows us that there were decades, even after the industrial revolution, where things just didn’t seem to change very much. The typical command and control style of leadership worked just fine. Overweening bureaucracies were the way things got done.

The rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, competition in most industries will probably speed up even more in the next few decades. – John P. Kotter

It would be an exercise in understatement to say that things change often now. Change is constant and inevitable, as Benjamin Disraeli described it. Any leader unable to adapt to change and indeed, to lead to change efforts with magnanimity, optimism, perseverance, and strategy will not experience success. Anyone unable to change will be left behind, unlamented.

Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection. – Mark Twain

There’ve been so many psychological studies done on change fatigue. It is real, but it is something that simply put: must be lead-through. The leader must energize her team, presenting them with a compelling vision, working to make sure that the need for change is understood. Putting people first is addressed in the five imperatives for transforming organizations that Jim Hemerling addresses in his TED Talk.

Not every leader is prepared to be an outspoken catalyst for change. Being willing to lead change efforts, to embrace the necessity for change, and empathize with a team that is experiencing change are all key components modern leadership philosophy.

The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change. – Bill Clinton

Sometimes it is easy to create a compelling argument for the need for change. In healthcare, for example, access and affordability are two of the key ingredients to a successful and thriving organization. No one needs to be convinced that these two objectives are not being met universally. Nearly any business or clinical unit must experience well-planned change efforts in order to increase access and affordability. Documented and validated procedures that improve key areas are the results of these efforts.

In order to better understand the ways to plan and manage change, I chose to pursue my Lean Six Sigma Black Belt with my continuing professional focus in healthcare administration. I’ve had the opportunity to lead regimented and experimental change processes across organizations and have noticed, both when I am a direct control and when I am acting in my role as a consultant, that a company culture that embraces change is one of the main differentiators that determine success in long-term and short-term change efforts. Organizations that embrace continuous change are more likely to adapt, willing to embrace a new vision, and eager to abandon less effective practices.

Adaptability is about the powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win. – Max McKeown

You don’t have to be wildly charismatic in order to effectively embrace and inculcate a change culture in your organization. Empathy and rationality are required, however.

Hop on that change train, then. It is pulling out of the station.