Change for many is uncomfortable and some are naturally more accepting of change and others more skeptical. Some change can be fun like driving a culture change and others can be boring such as new technology. Moreover some change is scary such as mergers and acquisitions or organizational realignments. Either way, there is a fundamental ingredient needed before you can begin a successful change effort. In order to lead change effectively you first must create a sense of urgency – the energy and momentum needed to begin moving down the path of change. To do this, sometimes we need to disrupt the workplace a bit and while that doesn’t always create a positive atmosphere, but we should also strive to motivate people toward change whenever possible.

  1. Communicate in ways that they value – different styles of people prefer different types of communication. Some may prefer e-mail or IM while others want to sit down face-to-face. Others value the group discussions that take place in staff meetings or town hall style meetings. To build urgency, be sure to get the communication going in a variety of ways AND be sure it goes in both directions.
  2. Have an External Focus – by showing your employees and leaders where the industry is heading or what other organizations have been successful at it does a couple of things. First, it legitimizes the change effort as something that is more of a best practice rather than a flavor of the month or the CEO’s pet project. And second, it provides a visual for what the future could look like which can increase urgency if people can “see” the change and an endpoint.
  3. Lead with Urgency – If you want your employees to act with a sense of urgency, you need to as well. Leading with urgency will create an energy that will cascade to your teams. They will feel your passion for change and be more likely to embrace it so long as its positive and sincere. Be visual when you communicate and be ambitious (but realistic) with your goals. Avoid creating a false sense of urgency where everything becomes a fire drill, but instead encourage your teams to make progress every day and be proactive in addressing opportunities or issues.
  4. Handle the Resistors – No matter how hard you try or how great your change initiative is whether it be new technology or a culture change, not everyone will support it. Some will resist passively and some will be quite vocal. Either way, it is important to handle those resisters quickly to ensure their attitudes don’t affect others. Consider carving out some one-on-one time with these individuals to ensure they have a voice to express their views – challenge them to come up with solutions rather than voicing a list of complaints and let them know you value their input and experience. In the end it may mean you don’t have all of the right people on the bus and need to move people around or even let them leave the organization, but what’s important is that you don’t let it fester which will create larger issues later.
  5. When you See It, Say It – While part of communication, I think this deserves a special call out because it’s an easy thing to not do. As your moving through your change effort, be sure that you’re reinforcing the behaviors that you want to see. If someone does a great job proactively identifying an issue or working quickly to satisfy a customer’s issue, say something then. And if there is an opportunity to improve, say that too. Be sure you’re giving your employees the right amount of feedback to motivate their performance. Get out on the floor and manage by walking around – be sure your teams know that you see their great work!
  6. Keep it up! – All too often after a change is implemented and the pomp and circumstance goes away we naturally return to complacency until the next big change effort, but we must avoid this. We must work to keep a high level of urgency even after the initial change is implemented. You can do this by continuing to communicate on a regular basis, soliciting feedback, creating work groups focused on continuous improvement, measuring and celebrating your results, and continuing to lead with urgency.

Change can be a complex especially if you’re not 100% sure what the end state will look like. What’s worse is not having the energy or momentum to drive change strategically or proactively. As you’re planning for and leading change, first be sure you have built a sense of true urgency and that motivation is high. If not, take a step back and create that before moving forward. Doing so will pay off in dividends once your effort has been implemented.


Collaborative Dynamics is a management consulting firm focused on helping organizations lead through change by providing consulting, training, project management, and coaching solutions.