Help, my iceberg isn’t melting!

Stijn Thiecke
There are many definitions of leadership. One of those definitions is that a leader should be able to choose the kind of leadership needed for any given situation. That also applies to Change Leaders. They have to able and willing to apply the type of leadership that fits the situation. And to get their hands dirty if the situation demands it.

Many Change managers feel inspired by the pull strategy. Understandably. The pull strategy is about finding what’s intrinsically motivating for people so that they go along with the change. You show them why it is important to change (start with why), involve them (bottom up) in the change trajectory and give them a say in the what and how of things that need to be done. As a leader, you show people exemplary behavior for the new situation. 

If this works, employees will want the required changes themselves, and that gives rise to huge power and commitment. The point is, you first have to create enough urgency. Employees need to know that not moving is not an option. No urgency, no change.

A change manager inspires and motivates till he’s blue in the face

And that’s the crux of the matter. Creating urgency is harder than Kotter’s theory would have you believe in his well-known book on the pull strategy. Kotter describes a situation of an iceberg melting and the penguins having to find another iceberg. But….how do you create urgency when it’s not a matter of life and death?

What if the target is 20% more turnover, or a 50% faster production process? Or, even trickier, the same work with X% fewer colleagues? How are you going to make that attractive for the employees? Is that even possible?  Sticking to the pull strategy doesn’t often work out the way you hoped it would. The change manager inspires and motivates till he’s blue in the face, but the organization doesn’t budge.

The problem? It’s not urgent enough. That’s why we are often asked by managers, what on Earth they should do to make sure the change actually happens. The solution is often simple. First check to see if the change really needs to happen. Keep everything the same. The answer is nearly always a convincing: No! Then determine if more inspiration, more motivation, more explanation, would change anything. The answer is nearly always a reluctant, no.

Start by stopping

In that case you must seriously consider applying the push strategy. The push strategy doesn’t focus on motivating people, but creating movement. The message that needs to be understood by everyone is; we are going to get moving, whether you like it or not.

And the quickest way to make that clear is not to start doing things, but first and foremost, to stop. To stop with everything that doesn’t contribute to the new, desired situation. If you want people to go paperless, remove the filing cabinets. If you want people to work with a new design system, unplug the old system….and by communicating clearly, when (in the short-term) you're going to do it.

This method is a lot less popular than the pull method. Logical, because doing this will get people’s backs up. You’re taking something away that they were used to and often attached to, as well. Things that people were expert at doing. You can expect negative reactions. Disbelief, criticism, anger and passive as well as hidden resistance

You aren’t the nice, inspiring manager anymore, but however hard it sounds, it’s not your job to be nice. It’s your job to make sure that the change happens, if not this way, then that.

So, if you’ve concluded that not changing is not an option, then you can congratulate yourself on all these negative reactions. Because, whatever way you look at it, the change has been triggered. You have created urgency. The change has begun. And, you have applied the version of yourself that was needed to create movement. And that’s the mark of true leadership.

Start with creating movement?

Meet: Stijn Thiecke
Start with creating movement?
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