In many ways, implementing organization change is a matter of mindset. The role of leadership in change management involves to a large extent ensuring that people at all levels of the organization adopt the proper mindset for success.
There is an interesting tendency in human nature to want things to be stable and stay the same. We share this desire for homeostasis with all living things. It’s actually an evolutionary asset: it keeps us from needlessly interfering when things are going well. As a result, we tend to settle into “comfort zones” that we only abandon under duress.
No wonder so many people experience mixed feelings when they catch wind of an impending organization transformation. Along with a bit of excitement comes a good measure of dread: feelings like “this is going to be hard,” “things are going to be up in the air for a long time,” “we’re going to have to work longer hours,” and “this may or may not really work.”
It reminds me one of my least favorite times of year: in spring when my wife says, “Let’s go out and get the yard ready.” I think to myself, “Oh, boy. That’s going to be a ton of work. I’d much rather stay on the couch or do just about anything else.”
Change the Mindset First
Such feelings are fair enough: any time there is disruption to the current state it naturally elicits resistance—especially when a great deal of work is involved. But it is the role of leadership in change management to anticipate these feelings and proactively head them off at the pass. In other words, change the mindset first, then the organization. This is not as difficult as it may sound. It’s simply a matter of repositioning the mindset from focusing on change and having to navigate unfamiliar territory to focusing on the work to be done.
Going back to the yard clean-up example, I create this mindset shift for myself every year by reminding myself of the one spring we let the annual clean-up ritual slide. The flowers didn’t get planted right away. The weeds didn’t get killed when they were still small. The grass didn’t get cut on time. Sure enough, that whole season long we ended up fighting overgrown, unwieldy, unattractive yard conditions. I ask myself, “Is it worth a couple Saturdays’ work early in the season to enjoy easier lawn care and a beautiful yard all summer long?”, and the answer is invariably yes.
Thriving: The New Status Quo
Instead of characterizing organization transformation as good or bad, hard or easy, leaders can help their teams recognize and acknowledge that transformation work is simply ongoing maintenance work that needs to be done to keep the organization current and fresh and relevant, in order to achieve the desired marketplace results.
When put that way, the decision to undertake organization change becomes an easy choice. We can leave the work undone and suffer the consequences of watching the organization drift out of alignment along with the associated slide in performance. Or, we can say, “It’s worth performing the work necessary to make sure our organization is well positioned to succeed.”
Ultimately, it’s a mindset shift from “this is the way things are” as the status quo, to adopting a status quo of “we’re thriving”—along with a recognition that to thrive it requires a degree of constant work. While change is never easy, the good news is that just like with yard work, organization transformation when approached in this manner becomes its own comfort zone—one that helps the entire organization to bloom.