Back in October I saw an article in Harvard Business Review on change management that I thought was interesting. It made the case that we live in a state of constant, rapid improvement and in this environment, change isn’t anything “special.” It is no longer a big deal, but instead, it should be part of your daily routine. The process of change is ongoing and ordinary. It has become the essence of how we live.
I like the idea of shifting your mindset about change. Change isn’t some remarkable disruptive event. It just IS. It’s a constant feature of our world like photosynthesis or gravity. It’s not going anywhere. So we need to respond by making sure a healthy attitude about change is woven into the fabric of our everyday lives.
A good analogy is the outdated notion of “going on a diet.” We all know that we can’t “go on” a diet because that implies that at a later date we’ll “go off” the diet. If that happens we will never be able to sustain weight loss. Instead, it’s much more sustainable to adopt a healthy lifestyle. No peaks. No valleys, just a constant a striving toward healthy choices. The same is true of our approach to change. We have to commit to nonstop forward motion, every day. It’s just how we will live from now on.
So how do you make change part of your culture and part of the ongoing way you work? The key is to put formal processes in place to ensure it becomes part of the everyday routine.
— Change your language. Stop thinking (and talking) “disruption.” Start thinking (and talking) “continuous improvement” or even “evolution.” You’re figuring out how to get better and better, and that’s a good thing.
— Make it one of your company’s values to question all processes. Never stop looking for ways to make them better. And think small. There is always room to make small, incremental improvements. These really add up over time.
— Hold people accountable for making ongoing improvements. Make sure all employees are responsible for identifying ways to make things better. Give them good examples of what you are looking for. For example, you might help them recognize and act on growth opportunities. Improvements can also come from people learning new skills or finding new ways to show value to customers or expand a service offering. When they get really intentional about new ways of looking at customer needs, new ways of delivering customer service, or new ways of strengthening customer interactions, the ideas really begin to flow.
— Keep an action log of ideas. Fill it with things that seem inefficient or that you’d like to improve. It’s often easier to spot these in the heat of the moment or when things are going wrong. Jot them down as they happen. Look for reworks, time wasters, or frustrating processes. Those are often easy to revise and you get some quick wins.
— Develop a process for collecting ideas. How will the ideas be collected and evaluated? Create a clear system for how “changes” will be implemented.
— Reward ideas. What gets rewarded gets repeated. Rewards don’t always have to be monetary. Even if it’s just a thank you note or public praise, people love feeling rewarded and recognized and will continue taking action to get that good feeling again. The positive reinforcement is training them to keep on thinking about improvements and innovations.
This is a win-win strategy. Once people have shifted their thinking about change, they’ll start to see results. They’ll get excited about their new track record of innovating and improving. And before you know it you will see that you’ve accomplished something every business owner seeks: employees are highly engaged. They’ve become owners, not renters. And you’re well on your way to being a high performing organization.