Inside the Minds of Change Leadership Gurus
- Change leadership. The book demystifies how change leadership can be effectively used for genuine business transformation.
- Trust matters. Frei and Morriss argue that trust, not just speed, is pivotal for both employee and customer well-being.
- Execution focus. It offers a week-based action plan, focusing on swift and accountable steps to drive business transformation.
In Frances Frei and Anne Morriss’ new book, “Move Fast and Fix Things,” they explore how contemporary change leadership can drive business transformation. In my conversations with CIOs, it’s abundantly clear that transformation — especially concerning customer experience — isn’t solely about technology.
So, what actions can business leaders take to achieve genuine business transformation and cultivate workplaces that employees desire? Frei and Morriss address these questions and more.
In many respects, “Move Fast and Fix Things” serves as a bridge between two other recent HBR books: “The Unicorn Within” by Linda Yates and “Breaking Through” by Sally Susman. Yates’ book concentrates on creating new businesses through experimentation and market validation, while Susman’s work explores how leaders can become exceptional communicators. What Frei and Morriss accomplish is revealing how the challenges of being a “change master” can be surmounted, including implementing significant cultural change. For this reason, the book is a must-read for CEOs, CMOs, and, naturally, CIOs.
Why Change Leadership?
Frei and Morriss kick off their book by stating the obvious: The starting point for most organizational change endeavors is identifying what needs fixing. They assert that savvy leaders recognize change leadership as a practice conducted by imperfect humans guiding other imperfect humans. This candid perspective is refreshing and sheds light on why, as Russell Ackoff described in “Creating the Corporate Future,” most of today’s problems “cannot be solved or answered within the prevailing worldview.”
Frei and Morriss simplify the concept by stating that any group of people inevitably forms an imperfect organization. This echoes former Honeywell CEO JJ Reiner, who noted that organizations are never perfect and can always improve.
With this in mind, Frei and Morriss encourage leaders to be impatient for change and take bold actions. The book’s primary goal is to provide insights on solving difficult problems and accelerating business transformation. In an era rife with complex, “wicked” problems, astute leaders prioritize resources to make challenges more manageable. Given the historical uncertainty we’re living through, being adept at driving change is crucial. Organizations that fail to adapt have little chance of succeeding.
Related Article: How Is AI Changing Digital Transformation?
Trust Us, It’s Fixable
Frei and Morriss challenge the notion of zero-sum game thinking, contending that it’s a misguided belief that organizations must choose between making progress and taking care of their people. Similar to Tiffani Bova in “The Experience Mindset,” they argue that leaders can simultaneously enhance the well-being of both customers and employees. Additionally, they assert that creating a disruptive future doesn’t have to come at the expense of leaving wreckage in its wake.
Additionally, Frei and Morriss propose that effective leaders tackle problems swiftly, while also being accountable for the well-being and success of their customers, employees and shareholders. These leaders embody the mantra of their book title: They move fast and fix things. To achieve this, they invest as much effort in cultivating trust as they do in accelerating pace. Speed, they argue, energizes an organization and clarifies its direction. Trust, on the other hand, persuades stakeholders to join the journey. Business leaders face a choice in determining which of four operational modes their organization will adopt:
- Inevitable decline.
- Reckless disruption.
- Responsible stewardship.
- Accelerating excellence.
Frei and Morriss state that their objective in writing the book was to create a change narrative that unleashes energy and imagination, converting this momentum into rapid impact. In essence, they aim to revitalize corporate metabolism. To achieve this, they outline how to break conventional patterns by moving quickly, while also caring for oneself, colleagues and stakeholders. They illustrate this approach through the metaphor of days of the week.
Related Article: Building a Culture of Organizational Change Acceptance
Change Management Monday: Identifying Roadblocks and Assembling Problem Solvers
Monday focuses on pinpointing an organization’s problems and surfacing roadblocks to progress. Initially, it may be unclear which problems change leadership should tackle. Therefore, the Monday objective is to foster curiosity and assemble a team of problem solvers. These individuals can assist leaders in identifying the most pressing issue to address. To accomplish this, leaders and their teams must gather information, necessitating skilled and empathetic listeners who are comfortable stepping outside their comfort zones.
These individuals should also be adept at identifying who is missing from the conversation. To illustrate, Honeywell established a quality circle focused on diversity and inclusion several years ago. The group’s initial step was to diversify its membership, which required participants to be comfortable enough to acknowledge when they lacked relevance or expertise.
Another critical task for Monday involves identifying what is hindering an organization and selecting potential problems to address. To effectively accomplish this, change leadership must gather data on their candidate issues. Armed with this data, they should formulate a business case. Subsequently, leaders must decide which business problem they aim to resolve. At this stage, it’s crucial to maintain a clear perspective and recognize indicators that the organization is stagnating.
Related Article: CIOs Step Up to the Role of Change Leader
Change Management Tuesday: Laying the Foundation for a ‘Good Enough’ Plan
Confidently, leaders must ensure they are addressing the right problem, designing a viable solution, and building trust in that solution. This entails rapid learning and conducting intelligent experiments, an approach echoing the principles in “The Unicorn Within.” At this juncture, it’s vital for leaders to abandon the pretense of already knowing the solution. They should objectively test ideas to determine their effectiveness. Once this is achieved, the objective for Tuesday is to develop what the authors term a “good enough” plan.
In the testing phase, Frei and Morriss advocate for failing with enthusiasm, noting that 80-90% of controlled experiments do indeed fail. On Tuesday, leaders are encouraged to share their innovative ideas. The authors recommend that organizations be so transparent that they even establish a “failure wall.”
Simultaneously, change leadership should spotlight factors that impede business transformation. Frei and Morriss recommend that leaders identify their organization’s “trust wobble,” typically focusing on authenticity, logic or empathy. Undoubtedly, stakeholders must believe that change leaders are genuinely concerned about their needs and will follow through on commitments. Additionally, leaders may need to conduct a business model assessment, examining elements like strategy, value proposition, product-market fit or funding.
With trust issues resolved, Tuesday shifts focus to rigorously testing and enhancing the “good enough” plan. This often includes addressing capability gaps and improving team skills. The first step is to identify the tasks at hand and assemble the appropriate team. Necessary adjustments may involve upskilling team members, altering work processes, and, when relevant, bringing in new talent. Changes to workflow could encompass redefining roles, responsibilities, reporting lines, organizational structures and decision-making authority.
When recruiting individuals with the skill sets to solve organizational problems, it’s crucial to develop systems for retention. This entails revisiting incentives, career advancement paths and rewards. Leaders may also need to weed out cynicism, as it can cripple an organization. This could involve making tough personnel decisions, including swiftly parting ways with individuals who no longer align with the company’s goals. Authentic leaders, meanwhile, avoid making change solely about themselves; they lead by example. Thus, on Tuesday, the focus should be on identifying organizational weak spots and initiating experiments.
Change Management Wednesday: Embracing Inclusion in Business Transformation
On Wednesday, the aim is to refine the business transformation plan by engaging with individuals who offer diverse perspectives, assumptions and experiences. According to Frei and Morriss, including these diverse voices not only improves the plan but also leverages the full range of your team’s humanity. Clearly, the overarching theme for Wednesday is inclusion.
Frei and Morriss argue that investing in organizational trust serves as a catalyst for change. Inclusion is a winning strategy; personally, I’ve found it enhances intelligence and fosters innovation. However, for inclusion to be effective, leaders must create an emotionally safe environment for change and celebrate individual uniqueness. By doing so, change leaders can build a network of internal champions.
Change Management Thursday: Crafting a Potent Narrative for Organizational Change
With confidence in their plan, change leadership must craft a compelling narrative for change that links the organization’s history, current state and future vision. Importantly, the strategy should not solely focus on dismantling the past. It’s also crucial to acknowledge that about 70% of change initiatives fail, and over half may lead to some form of setback for employees.
On Thursday, change leaders must craft a narrative that is so potent, lucid and compelling that it mobilizes the company’s energy toward the desired business transformation. This storytelling ability is a crucial change leadership skill that shapes attitudes and beliefs within the organization. The objective is to inspire action based on the stories shared.
Stories are the most potent tools in a change leader’s toolkit. To be effective, they must be both deeply understood and simply articulated. While these narratives should respect the past, they must also present a clear and compelling mandate for change. To excel in this, change leaders need to manage their emotions, ensuring they don’t obstruct the message, and instead offer an optimistic path ahead.
Change Management Friday: Rapid Execution and Seizing the Opportunity
With the business transformation groundwork laid, Friday focuses on rapid execution. The goal is to empower everyone to implement the plan swiftly while minimizing the risk of setbacks. As Geoffrey Moore states in “Zone to Win,” being late to adapt to a business model change is a fatal mistake. Therefore, timeliness is of the essence in ensuring the plan’s success.
For this reason, Friday is the culmination of the week’s hard work, aimed at seizing the opportunity for change. The mission for change leadership is to execute their well-crafted plan. This often begins by dispelling beliefs that hinder swift action and empowering team members to make decisions.
This involves navigating the impossible triangle of cost, quality and speed. When prioritizing speed, something else must be de-prioritized to free up necessary resources. This aligns with the practices of many CIOs I know, who become culture warriors by fostering a sense of urgency. This often includes embracing conflict through radical candor.
Parting Words on Change Leadership
There are many more insights for change leadership in the book. What I’ve aimed to do is highlight the core ideas for those leading change.
In Rita McGrath’s book, “Seeing Around Corners,” she suggests that “organizations can create the early warnings of a pending inflection point and then organize to take action on those insights.” The question then becomes: How does change leadership organize, act and drive business transformation through their organizations, turning good intentions into actionable results? This is what “Move Fast and Fix Things” addresses!
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