Change Is A Team Sport!

by Robert S. Tipton

(Plus the Other 13 “Golden Rules of Change”)

Change should be spelled with three A’s.

Organizational Culture Change, © Robert S. Tipton, 2003

Change is a Team Sport!

And, no — it’s not because the word should be pronounced slowly, like “Chhhhaaaaannngggeee…” because it’s often a long, slow process. No.

Change should have three A’s because there are three major “A-related” components that need to be included in order to ensure change is successful:

Awareness, Attitude and Action.

Additionally, each of these three A’s have some “sub-components” too (4-5 each) which represent the “14 Golden Rules of Change.” So — here’s the formula: 3 A’s + 14 golden rules = successful change. Simple, right?

Do you want to know more — but you prefer to “watch/listen” rather than “read?” Here’s a link to a YouTube video where I explain all of this in more detail. You can stop reading now if you’d like. (grin)

Okay, so if you’re here, I’m guessing you’d like to read on. Please do!


1. Urgency is Needed for Real Change

Is there a powerful impetus; a strong energy behind the change? If not, the change is likely not going to succeed. Don’t confuse this with Stephen Covey’s “Urgency / Importance” matrix, where he suggested we should ignore urgency in favor of importance. My definition is different. I’m looking to ensure there’s POWER behind the need to change, and that’s called urgency. For more about how I define urgency, take a look at some information from my book, JUMP!: Do You Have a BIG Reason to Change?”

2. Beliefs Aren’t the Same as Facts

Rather than just continuing to “believe” the same things — especially about change — we should verify that what we “think” is actually true. Things like “change is hard” or “people resist change” or “we can’t risk making anyone feel bad” are simply beliefs, they aren’t facts. What beliefs are holding you back from success in your change efforts? Look for them — I’ll bet you’ll find them. For more about this perspective, see my post about “How You See the Future Changes Everything!”

3. Change Includes a Grieving Process

Why does change feel so hard, so icky and difficult (yes, icky is a techical term)? Because change of any kind involves “endings” followed by “beginnings.” Whenever we experience endings, we experience a grieving process — even if we WANT the ending to occur, and even if the new beginnings are wonderful! Be aware of this often “hidden” grieving process, for it’s what derails many change efforts. For more about this dynamic, see my post about “The 9 Stages of Transformational Change.”

4. Change Happens for Individuals First, Organizations Second

Executives regularly get together, come up with some new ideas, and then prepare a “change management” process designed to “educate” their organizations about the new ideas. Then, through this education, they expect the entire organization to move forward, together. However, this assumes that change happens at the collective level — and it doesn’t. Organizations don’t change, the people IN the organizations change. And, people don’t change en masse — they change one at a time. For more, read my post “Get a Renewed Attitude and Stop ‘Managing’ Change!”

5. Change is a Team Sport

Another common misconception is that all we need to do in order to create successful change is to plan the work, work the plan (as the old saying goes). Executives strategize, mid-level managers plan the work, and then the line staff works the plan. Right? This is a “hopeless” approach because it doesn’t encourage participation. Even if it doesn’t improve the quality of the “doing” when it comes to change, people PREFER to participate in the change process. Simply stated, participation increases ownership at the individual level, and that’s critical for organizational (team-related) success. For more, read my post “Why Plan-the-Work, Work-the-Plan is Hopeless.”


6. Change Can Be, and Often IS Positive

There’s nothing inherently negative about change — however, we’ve been conditioned to believe that change is hard, difficult, and negative. I don’t know where you might line up on something like the “law of attraction,” but my experience tells me that “what we count, we increase.” So, if you bring an attitude of negativity to change, I’ll predict that you’ll have a negative experience more often than not. What if you chose — just once — to bring an attitude of optimism, hope, and excitement the next time you’re faced with a change effort. Do you think the results will be different? For more about this idea, check out this post: “What ‘Wants To’ Happen for You Today?”

7. “Be” the Behavior You Want to See

There’s an old saying (I don’t know to whom to attribute it) that goes like this, “Transformed people, transform people” (and the antithesis statement of “Hurt people, hurt people”). Does this make sense? It’s the notion that you can’t really lead people somewhere that you haven’t been yourself (which brings another saying to mind, “The blind leading the blind”). This golden rule has to do with leadership that includes resonance with “do as I’m doing, not do as I’m saying.” Model the behavior you expect in others — if you want transparency, flexibility, and openness in others, guess what you have to do? That’s right. Here’s a list of the “5 Essential Behaviors of Transformational Change Leaders.”

8. Flexibility — the Antidote to Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

Just like our ligaments and tendons get “stuck” if we don’t stretch physically on a regular basis, the same is true for our mental processes. If we aren’t regularly exploring new ideas, expanding our awareness, trying innovative approaches, we become rigid “sticks in the mud.” An attitude of adaptability is vital to success when it comes to change — even in the midst of a change effort. I can’t tell you the number of change-related projects “start” with the perspective of flexibility, but then snap right back into the “plan the work, work the plan” myopia that kills the project eventually. Be open to new ideas — even in the middle of change. Flexibility is an attitude, not an activity.

9. Take a Long-Term View, Change Isn’t Usually Like Instant Oatmeal

Sometimes change can happen instantly — like when we realize that someone has been dishonest (think Lance Armstrong). However, most change happens like a plant emerging from a seed — it takes time, care, and patience. Interestingly, the first direction a seed sends a shoot is downward. The root starts first (doesn’t it usually feel worse in the middle of a change effort — like you’re going down?), it builds a foundation, and then the seed sends the “green stuff” skyward. Let’s remember that most change is like a marathon, not a sprint, and when change sets a firm foundation (like the roots on an oak tree), it can withstand virtually any wind that blows (to REALLY mix my metaphors!).

10. Positive Energy Wins

One of the most important attitudes to bring to a change effort is one of encouragement (you can doooo eeet!), optimism, hope, and passion. Even in the face of the most difficult, messy, ugly situation, positive energy plays a HUGE role in driving successful outcomes. In my own consulting practice, I know this is vital for me. I MUST engender positive energy — to offset the fear, anger, denial, resistance, etc. that is part of most change efforts. So — the big question is this… What attitude do you bring as the leader? Fear or encouragement? Anger or optimism? Denial or hope?


11. Make a Decision, Don’t Hedge Your Bets

The definition of the word “decide” is NOT to keep all of our options open. Instead “decide” means to “put all other options aside.” Oh — dang! You mean I can’t put chips on ALL the numbers on a roulette table? I guess you can, but it’s a loser’s bet. Get your facts, line up your ducks, do your research, consult your experts, trust your gut, sleep on it, and then — courageously choose! By taking the action to pick a clear, aligned path (like JFK’s speech about “We choose to go to the moon”) we set the forces of our organization in motion toward a common goal. And, in my experience, it’s amazing what happens then!

12. Develop Relevant Plans

Once you’ve made a clear, unambiguous decision, it’s time to get relevant plans completed. Make sure your plans are in coherence with your goals! Here’s a quote from a former client that speaks to this… “We’re great at planning, we’re great at doing, we just suck at doing what we plan.” Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t let the “fear mongers, the risk managers, the financial tracking types, and the quality ninjas” have too much power. Yes — they all have a valid and meaningful role to play, but it needs to be balanced with passion, vision, courage, and relevance. Competition is a contact sport, and we need to ensure our plans have the right focus, at right level of detail.

13. Commit Resources — No “Pie in the Sky Allowed…”

Far too often I see change efforts get “almost” to the finish line, and then reality sets in… “Oh, you mean we have to commit resources to this? Nah… Just make the change — do less with more, add more to your work schedule. Just make it happen.” Don’t you want to poke that person in the eye (metaphorically-speaking of course)? Don’t leaders realize that you can’t pack for a trip (the change effort) without clean socks, car snacks, and gasoline? Change requires funds, time, people — not promises — and not just admonishments to “do it” anyway.

14. Once You’ve Started, Be 100% Accountable

How many of you work with others who have a closet full of Telfon® coated clothing? You know the ones, the people that work hard to make sure if things fail that nothing “sticks” to them? The last “Golden Rule” of change is the exact opposite of that. Just like Jim Collins discovered in the research leading up to his business best-seller, Good to Great, level five leaders are 100% accountable. Period. You’ll never find them engaging in “blame-storming.” Ever. So, the next time you start a search for “the guilty,” consider your own role in how things got to where they are. Are you accountable, or are you just talking about accountability? BIG difference.

There you go…

We’ve just taken a tour through the “Three A’s in CHAAANGE,” and the associated “14 Golden Rules.”

What are the most important “Golden Rules” for you? What experiences have you had related to the “Three A’s?” Please leave a comment below, so we can all benefit from your wisdom and knowledge. Thank you!

For More On Organizational Culture Change,
Please Check Out These Other Posts from Our Blog:

• 7 Core Beliefs of Transformational Change Leaders
• 3 Steps to Eliminate Leadership Anxiety
• 9 Stages of Transformational Change

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