The three secrets to create lasting change

Learn about the two principles you need to apply, the one habit you need to create and the one key area you should focus on.

Steffan Surdek
February 8, 2021
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In the first half of my career, I had never heard of organizational transformation. It was almost as if the companies I worked for had done them before I started working for them.

My first experience with transformation happened back in 2007, when I worked at IBM. I was working on a product the company recently acquired. We had quality challenges, angry clients and needed to turn things around.

One day, our management team had an all-hands meeting with the entire department. They brought us into a big room, crossed their arms and said "We are now Agile!" It felt like an unreal "I dream of Jeannie" kind of moment. It sounded like they had made it happen in that moment as if by magic!

No one knew what we needed to do at first or what it even meant. It took us about six months to find our way through it. Even then, not everyone in our department got on board, and some teams did better than others.

Over the years, I worked with many companies and saw very similar things. What I noticed is that more often than not, change starts with a bang and dies a slow and painful death. Organizational change is hard to create and lasting, sustainable change is even harder.

This article will introduce you to my three secrets to create lasting change in your company.

Secret #1

By doing THESE TWO THINGS, you will never need to create another change management plan again.

A common misconception is that you need to build a complete change management plan up front. The problem is this plan loses its relevance after a few weeks, if not sooner. The problem is planning over six months to a year up-front takes time and gives a false sense of security.

The secret to getting rid of those pesky change management plans is two-fold:

  • Involve key people as early as possible in the change to create alignment and support
  • Use a systemic approach to create fluid and dynamic change

A better approach is to round up your key players for a day and get clarity on the change you want to create. Get some of your informal leaders in these discussions. These are the people that team members will turn to with their doubts and questions. If they understand the change, they can vouch for the change and explain it to others.

Instead of looking for a start to finish plan, figure out what you want to do over the next month or two. This is what you need to understand and map out to team members.

People imagine that change is a linear thing, that we have start and end points and a direct line in between them. This is also not true, change is fluid and you can approach it step by step.

All you need to know is the first couple of steps. By using a systemic approach and listening to where you are at, the next steps come much naturally. The benefit of using such an approach is that you can start much faster, be in action and learn by doing.

Secret #2

Developing ONE KEY HABIT will make your transformation real and engage people to make it happen.

Once you align your key people around the transformation initiative, you need to kick it off. The problem at this point is people see the transformation as a separate project they do not have time for. They will find excuses not to work on it or claim they are too busy.

The second secret is to integrate the transformation in your daily work. Do not work on it as a separate project, instead, make sure people are working on the change as part of their daily work. Many people see the change as all or nothing, but often there can be intermediate steps you can take.

Start with small tasks or processes to make things concrete and see benefits fast. At first, keep it to simple changes that you can learn from, sustain and build upon.

You will find the more you integrate and use in your day to day, the more concrete everything will become. It will turn into something people will want to focus on because they see the benefits of doing it!

Remember that organizational change is not a project you need to deliver. You need to learn to live it and breathe it every day if you want it to become your new reality.

Secret #3

Changing your focus in ONE KEY AREA will radically increase efficiency and collaboration in your teams.

Organizations obsess on one of two things: getting results or getting it right the first time! Although these are great values, they can also impact your company culture in a negative way. The quickest way to paralyze employees from trying new things is to focus on success and failure.

The third secret is fostering a culture that values continuous learning and learning by doing. Over time, this increases the efficiency, collaboration and engagement level of your team.

You can do this by teaching teams to do short experiments to innovate, test and learn fast. This accelerates results, empowers people and removes the fear of failure. It gives people the right to innovate instead of feeling paralyzed by fear of failure.

As a leader you need to live this value and show your team how to do it themselves. You need to support and push them towards learning by doing. They will take their cue from you so you need to learn how to do this yourself first.

Conclusion

Applying these three secrets will help you create lasting change in your organization. As a leader, the key is learning how to master them and embody them. You will need to shift your mindset around the kind of leader you need to become to support this.

By engaging your people up front and creating alignment, you will have a group of people to support you. This group will be able to help others in your organization understand what you are trying to create.

By bringing the transformation into the daily life of your people, you will make it more concrete. Being able to see the benefits right away of their efforts will motivate people to want to do more. It will also help you avoid the transformation stalling because people see it as a side project.

Finally, creating a culture of continuous learning will speed up the pace of your transformation. People will feel free to try things, be imperfect and learn from what they are trying. Being in action will prevent your team from getting stuck in analysis paralysis.

These three secrets are a huge part of what I teach my clients. It is the longer path to change but it is also the one that creates change that lasts.

How would you lead your transformation differently by applying these three secrets? What would be easy and what would be hard for you to apply? How do you need to grow as a leader to apply change in this way?