5 Steps to Save A Transformation from the Incremental Monsters

I slumped in my chair, closed my eyes and sighed under my breath, “Ugh!”

What else can you say when you watch a truly urgent plea for transformation closely followed by a detailed paper directing the recipients to perform typical incremental improvement behavior?

What can you do when a valiant call for new, purposeful action is weighed down under words urging you to wait until the teleconference, or next meeting, or some later date to report your thoughts (not your actions, your plans, your true passion…nope, just your thoughts)?

You could hire Kotter International.  According to Dr. John Kotter, quoted in a recent Business Wire article,

All around us, change is accelerating, but our ability to lead change hasn’t kept pace. Managers are trained to make incremental, programmatic improvements. They aren’t trained to lead large-scale change. Kotter International is about leading large-scale change, not just managing it.”

When you know where to look, you’ll start to find too many examples in your daily life where people plea for transformation and demand incremental change.

The church council knows it has an aging population and a negative bank account, but its congregation is happy to wait another month to consider all options before acting.  Transformation meets an incremental monster.

The volunteer group’s strategic planning session paints a lofty vision of their impact on their community, then they bicker over how to structure their strategic planning meeting minutes, never starting the strategic change.  Transformation eaten by the incremental monster.

The organization that has a true need to transform from one century to the century beyond next, bogs down early in wishes to discuss the group’s thoughts in incremental meetings with elaborate action approval processes (never written down of course).  Transformation dead before it even meets the incremental monster.

Perhaps I’m venting to much..what was my point again?  Oh, yes.

For someone passionate about driving change, a world in need of transformation but plagued with incremental action can be maddening, but there are at least five ways out of the incremental monster’s lair.

1.  Refuse to be incremental.  Someone once told me he was fiercely committed to always being rigidly flexible in the service of his goals.  Take his advice and be rigidly flexible regarding your transformation.  You’ll be driving change: acknowledging the concerns of those you pass, but not stopping to convince them to come with you.  You’ll just keep going.  Someday they’ll join along.  Sure, they’ll make faster progress because you’ve blazed the trail for them to follow, but you’re not in competition with them; you’re in pursuit of your transformation.

2.  Offer the transformation option.  If you’re not the one in charge (and no matter the organization, you’re rarely the one in charge), try offering transformation to the powers in control.  And, offer transformation with your promise to work hard along side them on the transformation.  Offer your service to the congregation, to the volunteer board, to the bureaucratic organization. You’ll be putting yourself out there, but it’ll be worth it, even if they don’t accept your offer.  Why? Because after you make the suggestion of transformation they can’t honestly say they didn’t know transformation was an option. And if they try to crush you after you willingly offered to be a servant to their transformation then you know exactly the type of people you are working with (and I’d recommend for your sanity you try to work elsewhere).  See. Either way you learned something essential to driving your change.

3.  Let others choose the transformation for themselves.  You’re likely right in the transformation you’re suggesting.  Being right doesn’t matter.  Unless you truly have the power to compel people’s passions and minds into your service (and I doubt you do even with the best of power structures), if you force them along with you you’re going to kill in them exactly what you need alive to make your transformation successful.  When they’re journeying with you, they’ll need to be thinking, breathing, feeling members of your transformation.  Indentured servants and beaten serfs rarely produce the genius required to keep a transformation moving.

4.  Give them hope in the transformation.  People fear the unknown (how cliche’ but true) and they’ll worry the journey to the transformation will be rough.  Why not just admit to them it will be?  “Yep.  This will probably be the hardest thing you ever do.  And, because it’s the hardest, it will likely be the most fulfilling.”  Pick your point on the horizon, your transformation.  Tell them you’re setting your course that way, ready for what the road brings you, confident you’ll get there in due time and you’d love for them to join you. Say that and mean it. Then, set out and see what happens.  Give them some hope both for the end and for the journey and you’ll be surprised who joins you.

5.  Measure something new.  If you work for transformation and all the signs (the metrics, the dollar figures, the graphs, the charts, the meeting and the status symbols) remain the same as the old route, you’re not helping anyone.   Keeping the old is the incremental change trap.  Break free by admitting up front that you’ll have to leave some of those signs behind.  When we travel cross country in the U.S. we can be sure that the sign that says California will shift to one that says Nebraska then Illinois then New York, but all the signs are in English.  The words are different, but the language the same.  Do the same thing with the numbers, the figures, the praised and rewarded facts.  Bring enough of the old, but tailor it first for the new.

Maybe I’m rambling after a long weekend away and a busy day catching up.  Maybe I’m making sense.  The point of the five steps is to give you confidence that there are some quick, specific ways of acting that will help you in turning a plea for transformation into actual transformation instead of a pit of incremental monster mud.

To recap:

1. Refuse to be incremental.

2. Offer transformation.

3. Let them choose.

4. Give them hope.

5. Change the measures.

Or, you can skip my ramblings and hire Kotter International. Either way, keep driving change.

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