3 Things You Must Understand Before Leading Change

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Change is like throwing a rock into a pool of water, it's going to make a significant splash and the ripple will be felt for quite a while. With that in mind let me ask if you have ever thought or said one of the following statements?

I just read a book and I have some great ideas!
I just attended conference and learned some new things!
I just listened to a podcast and I want to try something new!

I have both thought and said those things as well, but what comes next? I think "what’s next" is another great question to ask and it also lends itself to many other questions when it comes to change. Have you ever thought or asked one of the following questions once you knew you wanted to make a few changes?

How do I turn one of those statements into action?
How do I implement some of the things I learned about, read about or heard about?
How do I stop doing some things I have been doing for years? (toughest question for church leaders)
How will my team respond to the changes I want to make?
How will people perceive me if I implement something they don’t like?

Again, I have both thought and said those same questions, but again, what’s next? The answer is simple, “UNDERSTAND!” Before blindly jumping in to change we all need to understand three things. And if you do I guarantee you will be better prepared, more equipped and have a greater chance of success.

Number 1: Understand You Paradigm
“What’s a paradigm?” A paradigm is a framework or way of thinking, specifically, how you or your organization thinks. You may have heard the term “like-minded” which simply means “we think alike” and like-minded people usually drift toward each other. Being on the same page with someone or a team creates great synergy, change challenges that. If you are attempting to lead change within an already existing way of thinking (or culture) then you must understand your paradigm in order to lead effective change. Four questions to ask to clarify or challenge your current paradigm (Originally written by Tom Paterson) are:

1. What’s right with my organization?
2. What’s wrong with my organization?
3. What’s missing from my organization?
4. What’s confusing about my organization?

Number 2: Understand Your Thinking
If we are honest our own thinking is our greatest asset or greatest liability when leading change. I don’t know of a leader who has lead a difficult but effective change that hasn’t either second guessed themselves or at least had a moment of doubt during the change. Someone once said that being a leader of change means that occasionally you need to hide your panic! Here are two thoughts worth understanding and even meditating on as you lead change.

1. Switch Your Thinking From What You Will Loose To What You Will Gain
There will be people who oppose change and sometimes they are loud, assertive and occasionally, they make sense! In those moments you must be focused forward. You must stay focused, not on what is being lost but what is being gained as a result of the change.

2. Prepare for The Paralysis of Analysis
Paradigm paralysis is the inability or refusal to see beyond the current line of thinking. Often times we want to wait for the right moment or get every detail before proceeding. We want to wait for perfect conditions before taking the next step. Remember, “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done." Ecclesiastes 11:4 NLT.

Number 3: Understand Your Curve
It’s important to understand the rate at which people will adopt to change. For each change you make there will be a percentage of people who “on board” quickly and others who will adopt later and, some who won't adopt at all!

The following bar chart is called the “Innovation and Adoption Curve” made famous by Joe M. Bohlen, George M. Beal and Everett M. Rogers. Although this famous “Curve” was not originally designed to measure the rate at which people adopt change it certainly has proven to be remarkably accurate at accomplishing just that.

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In simple terms, if you are leading change that involves 100 people, you will find that 2.5% will buy in immediately, 13.5% will wait to see who buy’s in and will closely follow. 34% will follow after careful examination and another 34% will follow after the change you are leading is actually working. Finally, 16% will simply not show up for the change. They may lag behind or simply resist.

Here is a brief explanation of each group (adapted from the writings of Bohlen, Beal and Rogers).

Innovators: Risk Takers
Innovators are risk takers and are first to change. When you launch your change you should get a 2.5% immediate buy in.

Early Adopters: Opinion Takers
Opinion leaders who are out front, but not first. They watch who gets on board and why then join the change.

Early Majority: Careful Thinkers
Careful people who tend to avoid risk although aren’t adverse to it. Early adopters usually wait to see if others get on board and wait to see if there is enough success to not get burned. They wade into the pool, they don’t jump in.

Late Majority: Skeptical Thinkers
Skeptical people buy in only after success has been achieved. They won’t help you lead change but they will get on board once the feeling of change has subsided and others are saying, “ This is the way we do things around here.”

Laggards: Traditional Talkers
Traditional people who avoid change and may not change until whatever they have previously bought in to has gone away. In other words, they won’t changed until passively forced to do so.

How does the early adoption curve help you lead your next big change?

Photo Credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2a/Ripple_effect_on_water.jpg