3 Myths About Leading Organization-Wide Transformational Change

Your company’s ability to implement transformational change directly impacts how quickly your company can grow. The faster your company is able to change and adapt to a customer’s needs or a changing market, the more quickly your company is prepared to boost sales growth. Yet some executive leaders limit their company’s growth by accepting commonly-held myths about transformational change.

Below are 3 myths about transformational change that may be slowing growth down at your company.

Myth 1: Transformational change is egalitarian.
There are countless articles written about company culture and the necessity to have everyone in your company “on board” to make change possible. However, having led four companies with explosive growth, I will tell you that waiting for everyone to agree that a change is necessary is a pipe dream. Change is not egalitarian. While there are some people in your company whose buy-in is necessary, it is not necessary to invest a lot of time and energy convincing team members who will barely be affected by the change of its necessity. The change goes forward either way. Move as many forward as you can as fast as you can. The team members not on board can either decide to come on board or go.

I ran a company once with a human resources director who was frequently in my office. Her statement was often the same, “I’m concerned. I think some people in the company are not comfortable with the changes we are making. I wanted you to be aware of that.” You can fill in the blank with whatever the change was that was being made. My response was almost always the same, “Of course there are. There are always people who are uncomfortable with change. So I was aware before we started with the change. Please do your best to make them comfortable. Thanks.” Many executives seek universal agreement before they move forward with the necessary changes to grow a company or even to save a company. Leading means making choices to do the best for the company in the long run.

Myth 2: Transformational change is dramatic.
I once hired a large consulting firm to develop a plan for effectively communicating a change to over 5,000 employees. The approach might as well have included clowns, fireworks and a marching band. Their proposal suggested hanging posters everywhere, developing an elaborate campaign with video announcements, a “guess the announcement” program, including prizes and so on. Do you know what the change was? An increased benefit program. All the employees needed (or wanted) to know was the following:

  • What is the change?
  • Why is the change happening?
  • What does the change mean for my co-workers and me?
  • What does the change mean for the future?

Transformational change doesn’t have to be dramatic. It just needs to be clear. The more secrets, the more disbelief and mistrust, and the longer it will take for change to be adopted. I once ran a training experiment in a program to prove a point. I handed out $100 bills to 10 people in the class. Five people took the money happily. Three took it quizzically, and two would not take it. It does not matter what form of change takes place, whether positive or negative, there will always be resistors. I did not answer any of the four change questions above. I only changed their condition from not having one hundred dollars to having one hundred dollars. When a change is made in a transparent, non-dramatic way, it tends to be more readily accepted, allowing your company to move forward with growth.

Myth 3: Transformational change is top down.
Articles, books and consultants often tout the idea that change, especially transformational change, hinges on senior executives driving the entire process or change will not happen. This is not true. While senior executives seem to drive the energy and commitment, change happens (or doesn’t happen) due to the influence of “informal leaders” more than executives.

Informal leaders are the managers and employees within an organization that carry a great deal of influence without having executive authority. I like working with informal leaders to prep the ground for transformational change within a company. For instance, at one particular company there was a group of informal leaders I called “The Smokers Mafia.” They were all smokers who took their smoking breaks outside together. They came from a variety of departments and areas, and, of course, they chatted. I would bring one or two of these employees into my office to check on them and see how they thought things were going. This was not an unusual thing for me to do. It happened all of the time with lots of different people, but I soon found out that when I shared news with a member of “The Smoking Mafia,” the news would soon spread quickly. I would always ask these “informal leaders” what they thought of ideas and changes and how they thought people would respond. I would ask if they thought anyone would be concerned. Finally I would ask how they would explain these ideas and changes to concerned people. That was that. Seed planted, explanation created and shared, ground softened for change and growth.

Are any of these transformational change myths hindering the growth of your company? Remember, the faster your company is able to change and adapt to a new customer’s needs or a changing market, the more quickly your company is prepared to boost sales growth.



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