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7 questions to ask before leading change

Dan Cable

Dan Cable recommends you stop and ask seven important questions before implementing your grand change ambitions 

7 Questions of change482x271

1 How big is the change?  

Today, the basis of change is small changes in human behaviour, rather than grand organisational changes. It’s a matter of hundreds (or even thousands) of individuals acting in new ways – by this, people inside a firm bring about organisational change that customers can see and respond to.

2 How might your workforce respond?

Today’s workforce is more sceptical, questioning, sophisticated – more cynical and educated than ever before. It is a more tuned-in and plugged-in workforce, in large part because so many people now are enlightened by the Internet and social media. Today’s workforce is much more aware of the world around them, of the struggles that the world is facing. People are also aware of the value of self, their lives outside of work. They want to feel that the work they do makes a contribution. They also have greater awareness of their competition, of what other companies are doing; and they want their own company to succeed, both for personal reasons and as a point of pride.

3 How will you create joined-up change?

It’s critical that different ways of thinking and diverse perspectives add up to one thing. Your employees’ individual patterns of behaviour need to build up to substantial organisational change. That’s the difficult part, because lots of little changes that don’t move in the same direction, that aren't made coherent, end up in confusion. It takes leadership to make the changes have a beneficial effect.

4 How will you lead change? 

Switched on and alert employees demand a different kind of leader. Top-down industrial revolution-style management clearly isn't going to cut it anymore. Change is needed quickly and in quick succession. Often, ideas for change come from individuals working at all organisational levels. So change is, in a sense, more of a group activity, one that can come from the bottom up. This means it takes a different model of leadership to understand its value, and then encourage and direct it.

5 How will you reframe change? 

Today’s workforce has been through so many ‘change initiatives’ that change is a bad word. Leaders must provide their employees with hope, purpose, and encouragement to try new things. They must prepare them for a struggle, it will take time and it may not work perfectly. There is a learning curve. Like a coach, leaders have to encourage people to push on through, even if, at first, it seems like the new direction will be a failure. 

6 Which ‘change stories’ will you share?

Leaders can provide a sense of common purpose by rallying their workers with stories about how their collective efforts will create a better tomorrow. Such stories should provide hope, focusing on why the workers, as a collection of individuals, can do something to improve life for themselves, the organisation – even the planet. Encourage them by emphasising again and again that they should focus on the end result, that what they are going through will be worth it.

7 Are people central to your change strategy? 

The only way to build an organisation that is change-ready, adaptive and resilient is with a psychological approach, not a strategic one. Organisations work best when there are hundreds, or even thousands of people that are looking every day for ways to make a better tomorrow. 

Change just keeps coming because the world changes and competition keeps challenging us. In the end, you need to inspire people to believe in change, to want a change and to see change through. Without asking illuminating questions, after all, how can you expect your employees to be enlightened by change? 



By Mike Beckman on 09-06-2016 14.47

Sounds a bit mechanistic since it frames change as a single event occurring from time to time. This then can create phases of high energy consumption, huge dynamics and unintended consequences. Suggest that, from a systemic perspective, leaders should rather provide environments enabling change and transformation, cause change happens frequently.

By Taking Account on 26-03-2016 04.27

I think, I need to adapt the article for my use as a small business employing me and serving the customers.

By TerryWickenden on 25-03-2016 06.17

A useful reminder of some critical diagnostic steps before change is attempted. Poor diagnostics work at the very beginning is likely to be the reason why most major change efforts fail?

About Dan Cable

Dan Cable is a Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School.

He teaches on the following programmes: