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Slow down to go far

A common critique business leaders have about their transformation efforts is that change happens too slowly. While that is a fair view, it may also be a myopic one: transformations require people at all levels to behave differently, and that is no easy feat. Leaders must ultimately decide whether to pull or to push their employees into the new world.

Of course, pushing seems faster at first, but only if you assume that employees will quickly learn the new behaviors and do what they are told with a smile on their faces. I don’t know about you, but in my experience, this has not been a great recipe for success. There are situations where pushing may work, but these tend to be related to announcements simply meant to inform employees, not change their behaviors. More often than not, pushing creates a resentful workforce that didn’t have their voice heard and requires a lot of damage control.

If you want people to really embrace change, you need to pull them in. There is an African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

Transformation is a team sport, and employees either go together or don’t go at all. In transformations, buses win races, not sports cars.

A few years ago, I was leading a transformation in which we had to decide the reporting lines for a handful of key positions - should they report into the regions or into the headquarters? It took us several weeks of discussions to get there, to really appreciate all the potential implications we would have to solve for. But once we did, everyone involved was on the same page, and the participating regional leaders became advocates for the solution even though it wasn't what they initially had in mind. There is no amount of pushing that can get you to that same level of buy in.

Bringing people along takes time, and so does securing their buy in. You need to iterate on different alternatives until the team believes the proposed solution can work, explain the solution to employees not involved in the design, train them, give them the opportunity to develop new behaviors and skills until they become confident they can succeed, coordinate changes with customers and vendors, and collect and incorporate feedback along the way so that people feel heard.

While this may give you the impression that the process is taking too long and that your bus is going too slow, the reality is that this is the fastest way to deliver a successful transformation.


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