Book review: Getting change right

Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations From the Inside Out

By Seth Kahan



There’s something you should know before sending out that all-staff missive announcing the latest and greatest change initiative.

Most of us won’t read your memo. We’re too busy with our day-to-day responsibilities and 40 other initiatives. We’re too distracted and too overloaded with information.

Yes, some of us will make time to give your memo a cursory read. But even then, a few of us won’t understand it. Others won’t buy it. And by the time the day is done, none of us will remember a word of it.

If you want to get change right, you need to ease off the memos and double down on meetings. Stop wordsmithing. Get out of your office. Meet with us one-on-one and in groups large and small.

Strike up conversations. Be genuine. Be bold. Listen more and talk less. Figure out what’s going on in our world. Find out what matters to us. Ditch the PowerPoint and tell stories. Invite debate and discussion. Welcome feedback and pushback. Be willing to reconsider, rethink and refine your game plan.  

Yes, these conversations will be messy, repetitive and sometimes frustrating. You’ll blow out your calendar. You won’t always like what you hear. But if you don’t invest the time upfront to find common ground, gain trust, earn respect and build relationships, change simply will not happen. And that’ll waste a whole lot more time, money and effort.

“Success at leading change – dramatic, sustained improvement – is largely determined by a leader’s capacity to not only enrol others but engage them in a mutually supported vision of the future,” says author  Seth Kahan, a change leadership consultant who’s worked with CEOs and senior leaders the world over.

“Create ways for people to get together and converse. Get them participating, engaged and involved. This is the road to personal investment, enthusiastic support and genuine buy-in. This is how you move people across the line from ‘I have to do this’ to ‘I want to do this’. And that makes all the difference in the world.”

According to Kahan, the trick is stop believing you need to figure everything out in advance and to start doing a better job of jumpstarting conversations and getting the right people involved.

So what are the conversations and who are the right people?

Kahan says there are eight conversations that create the future. What is the best possible thing that can happen as a result of our efforts? How do new ideas successfully take root in our culture? Where do the trajectories of our efforts converge? What motivates us to succeed? What would be the consequences if we were both successful? If we were to generate dramatic results, what partnerships would we rely on? What prerequisites do we both rely on to achieve big wins? And how can our interdependence be improved?

As for people, every successful change initiative relies on select group. Kahan calls them your most valuable players. 

“They are not always your friends. They do not always have clout, political power or resources. But they are powerful in the truest sense of the word and deserve your respect. Your MVPs will midwife the future you are working hard to realize.”

Look at all the groups you must reach for your project to succeed. Now pinpoint within those groups the folks who will be instrumental to your success. Who can block or slow down your progress? Who has something to gain or lose from your change project? 

Your list of MVPs will include political leaders within your senior leadership ranks. Policymakers, resource providers and influencers. Thought leaders, technical experts, practical visionaries and frontline executers.

To engage your MVPs, grab their attention by issuing a challenge. Kahan says they’ll respond to high goals and extraordinary opportunities. Make becoming an MVP a professional development opportunity. Generate magnetism that pulls people to you. And talk about the leadership potential you see in them. “We all respond to others who see who we are or can be,” says Kahan.

To be a great change agent, you need to be an ace at bringing people together, creating healthy interaction, defining a shared future and building engagement.  Before people buy-in, they need to see how your change will make their life easier and better.

“You need to become expert at getting people involved in co-creating the future, jump-starting bold conversations that draw people in, and triggering professional excitement,” says Kahan.

“Getting change right is less about producing communiqués and more about cultivating relationships. This is a true paradigm switch – from a model in which you design and assemble messages to one in which you till, plant, nurture, weed and harvest affinities.”

So let’s skip the memo and strike up a conversation instead.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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