Sunday, March 6, 2011

Don't underestimate the power of early wins

As John Kotter teaches, if you want to create change in your organization you have to provide opportunities for early wins and then use those early wins to build momentum. In an interview with McKinsey Quarterly, Pierre Beaudoin, CEO of Bombardier explains how they used early wins to persuade those who weren't convinced: "We started by identifying discrete projects that were small enough to show the organization fairly quickly that if we accepted change, we could succeed. There were five or six. Once these were working, we could take the doubters to see them, and the employees who had been involved in the successes could talk to the others. We believed that if we could involve about 30 percent of the organization that transformed in this way, the ideas would catch on in the whole organization."

When working toward a major change such as that implemented by Bombardier, the organization must have specific, measurable, relevant, timelined and achievable yet challenging goals. Achievable so that you feel confident you'll get those early wins, yet challenging or your detractors will say, "of course they achieved that goal; it was easy."

Groups, and therefore organizations, find themselves in upward, virtuous spirals or downward vicious spirals. An early win can be the push upward. An early loss does not have to push downward; leaders must be quick to identify and communicate what went wrong and plan to overcome the challenge. Then, as the saying goes, try, try again. Create a new stretch goal, and ensure success on which you can build momentum.

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