What Does It Take to be a Change Leader?

Driving Change: What Does It Take?

The challenge of organizing and implementing change is big all by itself, yet it’s something engineering leaders are often called on to do. The bigger challenge, even bigger than driving the change in the first place, is making change stick. A change leader can never declare “mission accomplished” until the change actually takes hold, for the long haul.

What do you need to keep in mind—and do—as you undertake your work as driver of change? Four critical success factors:

1. Know the change well. In the case, for example, of process change, study “best practices.” Document the as-is process and compare it to the improvement planned. (Maybe you do this, maybe someone on the change team does it.)

As the change implementation progresses, you’ll discover impediments no one anticipated. Maybe the new process requires you capture and track data that your current systems can’t handle. As the change implementation gets trickier, you as the change leader must understand the twists and turns, the options, status, etc. As soon as you’re no longer a knowledge expert, you’ve let go of the steering wheel. You may still have your foot on the accelerator, but that’s not enough.

2. Be committed to making the change happen, and when you express your commitment, skip the platitudes (“It’s going to be great!”). Use your knowledge of the change to describe an outcome people can actually visualize. “Once we implement this new process, we’ll eliminate those redundant steps we’ve all been wanting to get rid of!”

3. Address resistance. Many people don’t like change. Addressing resistance doesn’t mean “Change—or else!” It means recognizing why people resist. Usually people resist process change because (1) they’re experts in how it’s done now, so changing it means they’ll fall off the “expert” perch, (2) they invented how it’s done now and are therefore protective of it, or (3) they don’t want to spend the energy to make a change, learn it, follow new practices, and be accountable to new metrics.

Acknowledging what was good about the old way will help. It can’t all have been bad, so no need to trash it and alienate those who’ve been using it. And capitalize on the weaknesses in the current process you know everyone agrees about to help build enthusiasm.

4. Run change management like a project. Track progress, report status, meet regularly, and measure results.

One last thought: be careful not to declare victory prematurely. Process change has a tendency to unwind and revert to old ways, which is why ongoing measuring and monitoring is essential.

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