making waves for change

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We all have to navigate the changes that happen around us, but sometimes we also want to initiate change in our organizations and need to gain support from our colleagues to ensure the transformation succeeds. Here are a few tips on how to do just that from Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change At Work and in Life. 

Planning a wave that lasts

Leaders can influence a sustainable change by ensuring the purpose is clear and shared, and employees see they’re integral to the change and can contribute to it. True change isn’t achieved with a one-time event – leaders should be active in continuous communication efforts with employees, constantly reinforcing the “why” and encouraging contributions from a broad employee population.

How to build support for your wave

Lasting change grows through a coalition of employees who are committed and engaged. As leaders, we often think we have to have all the answers, but this works against creating a community around change. Initiating long-term change takes a different mind-set – it’s thinking up front about what’s essential and what can be shaped by a larger group with a few boundaries. We often ask for input after a plan is already well-formed. Instead, invite others to be a part of the discussions early on.

What to do when your wave hits a wall

Analyze why you hit resistance, who offered it, and assess whether you have a roadblock or a detour. Start with setting aside any disappointment and look at the facts. Your corrective plan will be different if the resistance was because of the idea, the timing or budget constraints. Wave makers have “adaptive persistence” – they’re determined and don’t give up easily, but they’re flexible enough to find a new path to progress. Ask yourself what else you can do now. The answer will help determine if a well thought through Plan B may work.

Anyone can start a wave

Business leaders need more wave makers throughout the company to help spark innovation, creativity and transformation, but their organizations aren’t always set up to deliver on that promise. New ideas will often come from someone close to the work, and senior leaders can’t possibly know all the answers for cascading their strategy and vision through the organization, so activate more wave makers by encouraging their development through coaching, asking the right questions, and providing experiences that promote an enterprise-wide mindset. You become a wave maker by working on a project or process that extends beyond your immediate workgroup and discovering how it can benefit the whole organization.

How to support a wave

First look to see if you have any systemic obstacles built into your organization that squelch innovation and change. Do you penalize experimentation? Do you expect everyone to go through proper channels and multiple levels before an idea is shared? Does your performance-management system reward efficiency above ingenuity? There is a balance, of course, but you must ensure you recognize and honor the behaviors and decisions that will bring you the innovation and change your business needs.

What have you found helpful or derailing when you created a wave of change in your organization?

By michelle m. smith, CPIM, CRP
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