Leading Change: Up Close and Personal

Young boy to mother: “Why do they need your help? Why go to the US?”

That’s how the conversations started in the family, as we considered the offer to relocate to the US and for me to lead the global transformation programs for my then employer, a leading telco equipment vendor.

The conversations revolved around “Why”.

I said I wanted to help. It was not just about the job. It had to be bigger than that for me, to even start to think about uprooting my family. I wanted to help the leaders achieve what they aspired to achieve. I wanted to help my colleagues. I wanted to see the business be transformed, so we can be better at what we do and our work lives can be energising, too.

But soon the “Why” started to point inwards. The change would give us a chance to start a new chapter of our lives. This was a chance to leave behind some of the sadness and grief; to step out of the shadows into the bright sunlight. We had suffered a devastating loss.

One child exclaimed, clapping with excitement, “Adventure!”

The other spent some time in quiet thought then said, “I can make new friends there.”

We started to imagine what this new life would look like. We studied the area where we may settle. We looked up who we knew there and happily discovered many, many distant relatives in nearby states. We read about the places of interest. We held family workshops, pored over travel magazines and books, and built a picture of what would be new, not so new, or just the same about this new life, and what may disappoint or make us unhappy.

Yes, we eventually decided to make the move! And everyone gained from the experience. Resilience was tested. Minds were broadened. New, lasting friendships were forged. Spirits were refreshed. Many lives were improved. And I was professionally stronger after leading four waves of business transformation initiatives across more than 50 countries.

WHY?

‘Why?’ is the often-overlooked aspect of leading change in organisations. Many change initiatives answer the ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘how’ and ‘who’.

When change initiatives do answer the ‘why’, many do not make a lasting impression or connection to those impacted by the change. Business cases are full of statistics and goals. But for the impacted people in the business, they are usually difficult to remember nor a source of excitement or keen anticipation.

Many studies have shown that people are more likely to change their behaviour when the reason for change evokes a visceral response. John Kotter, a widely known authority on leadership and change, wrote that to achieve a change in behaviour is rarely about the analysis-think-change process but more about the see-feel-change process.

Creating the ‘Why’ stories for a business transformation initiative undergirds the telling of the vision in a way that connects to hearts.

Do you know how to create a ‘why’ story? Have you used ‘why’ stories at work? Where else have you used them to influence change?

The ‘Why’ story is one of a number of techniques that fall in the category of what I call the ‘software’ of business transformation. Read my previous post Hardware and Software of Business Transformation for the overview.

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