There’s a meme that posits “there are only two types of people in the world…” and ends with a wide range of divisive responses:
- Toilet paper roll over or under
- Coke or Pepsi
- Loves the pizza crust or tosses the pizza crust
- Fills up the gas tank at the halfway point or drive until you’re running on fumes
- Sets one alarm for the morning or sets seven alarms all 1 minute apart
Too Slow or Too Fast
I can extrapolate this to organizations going through change. There are two types of organizational movements: going too slowly and going too fast. Every now and then there’s a Goldilocks getting it just right. Mostly, though, I see leaders and frontline employees jumping back and forth without ever finding the balance. As a result, everyone feels frustrated, especially when leadership feels one way and the frontline feels the opposite.
If you are a leader and you feel like your organization is moving too slowly, it’s frustrating to feel like your employees aren’t getting on board with your vision. When things are moving too quickly, you may feel like things are being glossed over or minimized in the frenzy and fear that there are so many high-priority items that they can’t all be done at once.
If you are not in a leadership role and you feel like things are changing too quickly, it comes across like leadership doesn’t understand how much work it takes at the frontline and that you aren’t being listened to. If it’s changing too slowly, you feel like leadership doesn’t have a compelling vision for the future or that they aren’t prepared to make necessary changes.
How do you end up with the perfect balance between these two types of movement? Consider the pace of change your customers and employees are able to keep up with. I recently told an executive who is leading major transformation efforts that my biggest concern was that they are trying to move so quickly that people would not have time to get on board with the vision. It’s great to have a bullet train that can go 100mph, but if you don’t slow it down no one can actually board the train and you’ve got a bunch of empty seats.
Tips for Getting It Just Right
To me, the goal is about knowing when to shift into neutral, when to pull the train into a station and open the doors. Here are some tips for helping you get there:
- Build in time for the transformation or changes can settle. This gives your employees who have to represent the change and the customers who you are presumably making changes for the time to get used to the new world before you hit them with another change.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s impossible to overcommunicate with your employees about changes, and I’ve never encountered an organization who has too many feedback loops. If you think you are communicating too much, you are probably just starting to get it right.
- Prioritize (and re-prioritize!). We tend to prioritize our direction and our major steps once, and the spend a year or more working through that list. Priorities constantly need to be re-evaluated because the situation is always changing. I like using the Marie Kondo method for organizing your home with my project priorities: pull everything out and re-evaluate its priority level on a regular basis.
- Balance bandwidth for your people and yourself. One of the top reasons that employees get frustrated is when more gets added to their plate without removing anything. It’s important to find things that you can step back from in order to shift energy to something else. Don’t disillusion yourself – people need to feel like their workload is manageable. Regularly checking in on your priorities will help you figure out what can be pushed to the side in order to move something else along.
This takes a lot of work to understand your people and what they are able to digest at a given point in time. Every variable creates the opportunity for a different experience. So, you have to continuously study your change efforts, the feedback you are getting, and if the changes are trending towards your ultimate goals. Hitting the brakes can be really jarring, both literally and figuratively for people. However, if you plan out sections of your journey where you can smoothly shift into neutral, it will help you in the long run.
I’d rather have a train full of people that took six stops at different stations than to blast straight along the track to my endpoint and look around and realize I’m all alone out here.