By Scott Weighart, Director of Learning and Development

We live in an age where your leadership skills are going to be judged based on your ability to make change happen.   Your organization needs to be nimble in making adjustment in response to opportunities and threats.  Your ability to bring about meaningful, lasting change with maximum efficiency is likely to make all the difference in performance for your business.

This is further complicated by the nature of business today.  Most of our clients are trying to make change happen at organizations that are spread across multiple time zones—often around the world.  Accelerating global execution is now a real differentiator for today’s leaders.  How do you get everyone on the same page with a far-flung workforce?  What can you do to inspire people from a wide variety of functions, generations, and cultures to avoid a major disconnect and embrace change?

Unfortunately, most change initiatives fall far short of meeting expectations.  It’s not usually because the change itself is a bad idea or an unnecessary move.  It’s because leaders often lack a change management plan that takes into account the perspectives that people will have on the change.

Recently I came across this picture, and it made me think of the problem with most change management plans.   Basically, there are three perspectives on any given change:

  • The Cat sees the change as an opportunity. 
  • The Fish sees the change as a threat.
  • The Child may be curious about the change… but also may not understand it.

When it comes to any change you’re trying to drive at your organization, you’ll find that your organization has plenty of cats, fish, and children. 

Leaders often are the Cats.  When they look at the change, they’re focusing on the opportunity to make a killing—or to eliminate something that is expendable. 

Fairly or unfairly, the Fish are those at your enterprise who dread the change because they fear that they may be the ones who are expendable… or that the killing will be very costly to them at least.

The Children may not know what to make of the change.  They may or may not be interested in it and open to embracing it… but they don’t understand why it’s happening and what it’s really all about.

When it comes to the change management plan, leaders often make two mistakes:

  1. They underestimate how early, often, and long they will need to communicate about the why and how of the change before everyone will embrace it.
  2. When they do talk about the change, they talk from the perspective of the Cat.

That means that leaders talk too much about the opportunity—how great the change will be—and not nearly enough about what matters most to the Fish and the Child.  Leaders need to talk about the threat, including what’s very real about the threat as well as might may be understand.  Leaders also have to sell the WHY of the change: Why are we doing this?  What’s broken that we need to fix?

A great change management plan includes regular, scheduled, two-way communication before, during, and well after the change is launched.  This communication needs to acknowledge and address that everyone’s perspectives on change will vary radically.

With a well-executed communication plan, your teams can accelerate execution and drive business results.  But when it comes to talking about change, make sure that the Cat doesn’t have your tongue.


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