Managing Change! Is it painful? You bet it is!

How urgent is your amoeba?

Most of us who work in the field of change management have signed up to the Kotter model of leading change.  And Step One in the model is to create a sense of urgency.  But what exactly does that mean?

When I put the words ‘creating a sense of urgency’ into a search engine I came up with all kinds of good things!  For example,  inspiring the team to work together towards a goal!  Lots of pleasant and positive stuff.  Sounds good doesn’t it –  makes you feel good!  The problem is,  it doesn’t work if you want to make a fundamental change in an organisation.

Kotter reckons that for change to be successful, 75% of a company’s management needs to “buy into” the change. In other words, you have to really work hard on Step One, and spend significant time and energy building urgency, before moving onto the next steps.  And there are no pleasant and easy answers.

It is hard to persuade groups of people to move a long way out of  their comfort zone!  They will not move unless they understand that staying where they are is not an option! That means convincing them that staying where they are is going to be painful or is simply no longer possible.

As my old lecturer in change management said somewhere back in the 90s – unless the pain of staying where you are is greater than the pain of moving, you usually stay put! He started the lecture with a picture of an amoeba and gave us a lecture on the fundamentals of stimulus!

So what can you do for your group?  It isn’t simply a question of showing them the sales figures and expecting them to respond.  You need to work with them through the figures and then help them think through the consequences!  Not just consequences for the organisation, but for them.  What will it mean for me in six months if the sales figures do not turn up?

Let them understand and absorb the threat of of failing markets.  Or more optimistically, new technology and new competitors.

Then work with them to think through options for the future and how they can move forward.

Share the pain and then how you can share the gain.

Show them what they have to  gain from making a change.  This may not be much but there will always be something!  If the facts mean potential redundancies, work out how can you work together to mitigate the effects.

Are there new working patterns that you can adopt, for example flexible or short-time working?  Are there new markets that they know of that you can open up?

But you need to be careful.  There is a difference between sharing the pain so that together you can make a change  and creating panic.

Do your homework before you start.   You need to prepare well – you will face some challenging questions!

You are the leader and you need to remain in the leadership seat.  Keep your nerve.

It aint easy but then no one said being a leader was easy!

You must follow up with good information about your plans  after the initial meeting.

Don’t be naive when they will leave your meeting or presentation, the rumour mill will get to work.

Make sure you leave sufficient time in your diary afterward the initial event to deal with the consequences!  And the questions they wish they had asked but did not ask at the meeting.

If you have experience of creating a sense or urgency, please share your war stories.  If you have a change to make – I hope things go very well for you!

If you have any questions or comments, I would be very happy to receive them.

Wendy Mason is a performance, programme, contract management and change specialist. She works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy –  she can help you – email her at or ring ++44(0)7867681439

5 thoughts on “Managing Change! Is it painful? You bet it is!”

  1. Pingback: Business Change: A Sense of Urgency « Martin Webster, Esq.
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