Leading Change – From Complacency to Action

Although a visionary person may see that change is needed, making change happen takes a lot more than vision. A number of years ago, our company was purchased by another company that had a visionary leader. His gift was that he could see trends in the marketplace and instinctively knew what had to be done. Unfortunately, neither he nor his team was blessed with the gift of execution.  Seeing the change is important; building a company capable of implementing the change is critical.  For example, you have to anticipate and address the typical pitfalls on the journey to change, step by step, if you want change to stick.

One huge pitfall is complacency. A good leader has to expect complacency and begin to create a critical sense of urgency – an emotional connection to the need for change. All the spreadsheet logic in the world won’t persuade most people that change is needed. They must feel it.

You may have heard the story of a CEO of a manufacturing company who was analyzing longstanding purchasing practices. He found that the company was purchasing thirty different gloves from thirty different suppliers at different prices, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense. So one day, he brought in thirty pairs of gloves, all with different price tags, and let them sit in a conference room for a couple of weeks, where people could see them. Those gloves helped people see how crazy the company’s purchasing practice was and accept that it had to change.

Another example is from my own experience. Years ago, I managed a division that had just been acquired by Boeing, which was much bigger than my old company. Just up the street was Lockheed Martin, another huge firm, and one day I looked out my window and saw that it was hosting a fair to recruit new employees. I could see tents and balloons, and for all I knew, there could have been elephants and clowns too.  The point is that it was a real extravaganza. At my company, we’d been thinking about having a simple, standard open house to recruit people. But when I saw that extravaganza, I realized we were now part of a bigger company and had to act like it. We had to think differently about how to get people excited about coming to work for us.

So accepting the need for change and overcoming complacency is the first step to making a change happen.

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