Leading Transformational or Incremental Change

by Doug Lennick

It’s been said that the only thing constant is change. Although that is probably not true about everything, it is certainly true about most things. And since it is true, it makes sense for each of us to ask ourselves, “Do I want to lead or follow or get the hell out of the way?”

You’ve made the choice to read this article because you’ve made the choice to lead. Leading change, and indeed leadership itself, is all about influencing people. The question then becomes, “Am I leading transformational or incremental change?” The former involves engaging in discontinuous improvement and the latter involves engaging in continuous improvement.

Several years ago I was invited to be a keynote speaker at the American Bankers Association national conference for CEO’s. On the day I spoke I was followed by Alan Greenspan and Jim Collins. Jim was there sharing what he had learned when writing “From Good to Great,” and I was there sharing what Fred Kiel and I had learned in co-authoring “Moral Intelligence.” And although both of us were talking about leading people and organizations to change, in Jim’s case changing something that is good to something that is great and in my case making the ideal real, we both also acknowledged that in leading that which can and must change we need to be conscious of that which does not change. Change leadership, therefore, begins with understanding and communicating that which will not change.

Collins noted that in going from good to great two things don’t change: purpose and commitment to core values I noted that in making the ideal real four principles don’t change: integrity, responsibility, compassion, forgiveness. What is your purpose/vision/mission? What are your core values? Do you hold yourself accountable for principle-based decisions and behaviors?

Answer the above questions, communicate your support and the importance of the answers, and you are ready to answer the most question of your change agenda, “Why?” The “what” and the “how” of your change agenda will be more widely accepted and effectively implemented if the “why” is compelling (attaching the change agenda to vision/mission/purpose is more compelling than attaching the change agenda to financials…improved financials is likely to be just one outcome of organizational change). Whether your change agenda is transformational or incremental, you will need to address “why, what, and how.”

At Think2Perform we have a vision “to enhance the world” and a mission “to make a positive difference every day.” A change effort at our company might begin with the following statement: “As you know, our vision is to enhance the world and our mission is to make a positive difference every day. We have been making a positive difference every day, and we have been making progress on our vision, and we can do even better. And to do even better we need to do more, and to do more we need to enhance what we provide our clients and how we provide it. Simply put, the world around us needs us to grow faster than we have been growing.”

Of course, even when the “why” is compelling, it is still very hard to change. UCLA neuroscientist Jeff Schwartz and Think2Perform’s very own neuroscience graduate Ryan Goulart and psychologist Rick Aberman help us understand that the physical brain is wired to repeat behavior and doesn’t welcome change. Even when one’s mind comes to the conclusion that change is necessary, the brain often draws us back to existing habits and patterns of behavior.

Overcoming existing habits is simple but not easy (note: simple and easy are not synonyms), and yet overcoming existing behavioral patterns and organizations ways of doing things is necessary for change to occur. To help with that we’ve developed the 4 R’s:

  • Recognize…that which is going on and that which needs to be changed.
  • Reflect…on the organization’s vision/mission/purpose/values and the desired new ways of doing things and the expected outcomes.
  • Reframe…thoughts to adjust for various biases and to help provide real reasons for hope and optimism regarding the change agenda.
  • Respond…with a decision and with behaviors designed to implement the change agenda and achieve desired goals consistent with organizational values.

It sounds simple, and it is. And although it may not be easy, it still is most likely necessary. And with your leadership it’s not just possible, it’s probable!

If we can help you with any type of change initiatives reach out to us here and follow me on twitter @DougLennick

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