Build Confidence in Change

Leading Change Series - Part II

Change is scary; organizations and people are naturally resistant to change. We defer to the sedentary status quo over the risk of growth. Last week, in Part I of our Leading Change Series, we discussed Kurt Lewin’s three steps for organizational change. (If you haven’t read Part I, it is available HERE) Organizations are living, breathing organisms that are comprised of people. A mechanical mindset, fixing a problem by simply uninstalling a piece and reinstalling an updated mechanism, won’t maximize growth. You can’t sustain an effective organization this way, because people are not widgets. Teams pose an agricultural paradigm, not a mechanical one.

Changes of Command often bring a new look to the organization.

Succeeding within the framework of Lewin’s Organizational Change Theory requires a bedrock of safety and trust. Trust combats the natural fear caused by the pressure of change. Beat back the organizational fear of change with three steps:

1. Collaboration
2. Conviction
3. Cumulative Gains


Creating a collaborative environment, where the culture embraces mistakes rather than fears them, inculcates safety. You can accomplish this through shared vision. When the organization takes part in building the path, they become owners of the change. Clarity of purpose breeds stability. But, collaborative vision isn’t enough. Leaders who collaborate to build safety in change, partner shared vision with shared values. When the organization values constructive failure and the subsequent growth, it builds psychological safety. That organizational climate sustains comfort in the uncomfortable, building a learning organization. Collaboration breaks through the barriers of preconceived notions that are resident within your team, held up in a cognitive room built by the walls of limited life experiences (Kouzes & Posner’s The Leadership Challenge). If collaboration is what it takes to breaks down these walls, courage of conviction is what provides the mortar to rebuild.


Leaders of change draw on conviction and passion to motivate the organization toward growth. Simultaneously, they calm the inherent restlessness that accompanies change. You will face status quo criticism with phrases like, “this is how we always have done it”. This is a fixed mentality and breeds complacency. Overcoming this resistance requires courage. The leader’s courage has a way of permeating and transforming everything it touches. Leaders of change, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Alan Mulally (CEO, Ford Motor Co.), demonstrate the artful motivation and measured enthusiasm to reassure their followers. But, enthusiasm only goes so far – faith without works. As Henry Ford stated, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”

Change requires action. Like your reputation, it can’t be based on words alone. Don’t just talk about it, be about it.

Cumulative Gains

Change agents instill confidence in their team by stringing together small wins to build cumulative gains. In the long grind for lasting change, constituents need short-term wins to give them something tangible to buy into. Incremental successes build confidence. This is why you put a new fighter in the ring with a lesser opponent. It is why you throw a batter a few fast balls right down the pipe to start them off during batting practice. They sustain the endurance required to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith. It is no different when evolving or advancing your organization. Constituents need something to believe in. Leaders don’t have to walk on water or turn it into wine, but the do need to feed the five-thousand. Find the small wins that will feed their faith and reinforce your conviction.

Join us next week as we tackle what to do when the change is deeper than systems. We will discuss methods for leading values based growth. How do we steer the individual to drive the organization? In the meantime, join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook with #LeadingChange.

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