Unsticking Yourself – First Step of Change


I enjoy writing on the topic of change.  A common concept suggests that we are metaphorically, psychologically or emotionally “stuck” in patterns of thinking and behavior that can paralyze us from action.  Stuck is stuck – – – like the man struggling to turn over the domino in the picture on the left.    Before change or action is possible, something must happen to “unstick us”.  Harvard change theorist John Kotter calls it “unfreezing”.

You need to do something that helps people feel emotionally ready to accept a new order of things.  In my experience, it is possible to accomplish this by three principal methods:

  • Restructuring – re-do your organization chart or force from the top – a completely new process or system, which can force people into new patterns of work . . .  this does work, but can be expensive and anxiety provoking.
  • Visioning – the act of a charismatic leader who has a clear vision and communicates it with such clarity and passion that people instinctively want to go there.  While this does work, such charisma and communication power are in relatively short supply.
  • Exploit a crisis – the third way I know to accomplish change is to exploit a challenge or crisis . . . because when crisis occurs, this automatically creates a sense of urgency that can both unify and help galvanize even normally un-collaborative teams. (I would caution against trying to deliberately create a crisis – since it can come across as manipulative.)

Here is a 10 minute clip where John Kotter talks about the importance of that sense of urgency.

The story described in Using Crisis for Good – Driving Innovation and Change is a real story of crisis that happened to me.  The link tells about a crisis, what happened, and the rich array of insights that came from it.

In the scenario, we were on the verge of losing a major contract, the loss of which would have brought with it very painful consequences.   We tried a fairly unconventional response to it.

The sense of urgency was already there.  (Once word got out, it wasn’t difficult to paint a chilling picture of what would happen if we lost that business.)

We laid all our cards on the table.  We shared all our information (including sensitive financial data openly with all employees.  They saw we were serious, and that we trusted them.

We eliminated management people from the equation.  (While many of you may see this as unproductive and controversial, I believe that it is mainly our middle managers who erect departmental barriers.  If you read the article, you will see why it isn’t their fault though.)

We largely empowered our employees.   (Except of things that violated safety or Federal regulations, virtually no idea was off the table.)

The results of this approach not only helped us turn defeat into victory, but set in motion a revolution in how we started to think about managing our business.  I hope you enjoy it

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1 Comment

Filed under Innovation, Leading, Managing Teams

One response to “Unsticking Yourself – First Step of Change

  1. I found the info on this post useful.

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