Leading Change-Part II

So if you can’t analyze and think your way into change, what’s the alternative?  What if the change you need to create is not one of understanding, it is one of feeling?  People have to see the need as well as feel the need for change.  Folks can listen to your explanation of a problem, listen to the empirical data that supports your arguments and agree with you about the need for changes, and then not change the very behaviors that are reinforcing the problems.  Why?  

Analyzing and thinking is not enough.  People need to see the need and feel the need in order to make the changes that will make a significant difference.  Data and arguments do not overcome the inertia created by the uncertainty, fear, worry and doubt created in an organization that lacks clarity, direction, or purpose.  In those environments people will nod their heads at the appeals for change and then find creative ways to work themselves back into the status quo.

So why is SEE-FEEL-CHANGE a more effective approach?  You still have to provide compeling evidence for change but you want the kind of evidence you offer to  hit people at an emotional level: disturbing, hopeful, sobering, galvanizing, etc.

I was reminded of my first job out of college.  I was high school history teacher and varsity soccer coach.  The team I inherited had suffered several losing seasons in a row but they had a prior history of  winning.  The team’s talent was okay and the boys seemed  eager to learn and turn things around.  I spent time analyzing the team’s problems and I identified several areas that needed major improvement.  The main problem was that they needed to raise their level of play significantly if they were going to be competitive again.  Each player needed to improve their individual skill level and the team had to start playing together.  We had countless chalk talks, individual training sessions and team building events.   The team did improve going to the playoffs two years in a row, but the level of play was still not where it needed to be and we plateaued.  The biggest problem was that the team thought that they had improved enough and that their level play was now adequate  

I did not know what else to tell them or show them at this point.  They were frustrated with me and I was frustrated with them.  This was not an understanding problem.  It was as if we needed to experience something together that would communicate the change that was needed. 

The summer following our second season I took the team to Mexico City for two weeks to be trained by Mexican coaches and to play in a Mexican league.  For twenty-one South Carolina boys this was culture shock on a major scale.  The language, food, and customs forced them to lean on each other to get through those two weeks.  They became better friends on this trip, but more importantly they became a team.  We lost every game we played and we lost badly.  The teams we played embarrassed us with their skill and provided us with clear evidence regarding the level of play that we had to achieve in order to become competitive. 

They returned from that trip a different team on a mission.  Together they had each SEEN and FELT the change that had to happen.  They were now emotionally motivated to make the individual and team changes that would take them to the next level. The following season they went undefeated and won the state championship.  Over the next thirty years the school would win over twenty state championships.   The changes that team made created a winning tradition and expectation.

If you are a leader and you have not read Switch, I encourage you to get a copy and take your time reading it.  The first changes may be the ones you have to make in the way you lead.

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