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What to do when the cracks appear (Part 2) by Corey L. Jamison

August 22, 2012

Last week, Corey Jamison shared best pratices for approching the change process. She also explained why we should watch for cracks in the system or as she described them, opportunities to pry open the organization…places where there is willingness to question or challenge the status quo. Now, we conclude with what role senior leaders must take to make change work and when and how to press ahead without headaches.

The Role of Senior Leaders
Before any change effort begins, senior leaders must pay close attention to the internal partnerships needed for success. What do these senior leaders need to build and sustain the change effort? Who within the organization could fill those needs and serve as the change partners? Who among these potential partners already have energy around the change effort? Who are their allies inside the organization? How can this network of partnerships be leveraged for the greatest success?

Often, asking these questions nudges leaders to start where the commitment to change is already in evidence: areas of the organization where people are seeing the need for change, leaning into it, and willing to take the associated risks. In these pockets of readiness, the crack is already open, and the partners are ready.

Sometimes, however, there is no crack. No one feels safe enough to step out and be vulnerable. Under these conditions, senior leaders and their change partners must do their work at the edges of the organization and—above all—stay alert. Where can they find opportunities to open a crack, or hold an existing crack open? If the door to change is locked in one place, where might a window be ajar? Above all, who will help them hold the crack open? Once those cracks emerge, it’s Game On.

Know When to Nudge—and When to Wait
Specific responses to cracks depend on the specific circumstances. Sometimes, for instance, it’s best to respond in small ways to small cracks. You might take 10 minutes after a meeting to listen to someone talk about a sensitive issue. You could send handwritten notes to reinforce positive behavior in an interaction you witnessed. Perhaps you could bring together people at the forefront of the change effort to share success stories and give “energy back” to one another. Some of this simply involves giving support. For those who work with change, the crack presents an opportunity to stand with people, provide solidarity, listen as an ally, and give their street corner (their perspective) when asked—in short, to provide the safety and encouragement people need to hold the crack open. It is a matter of witnessing and being there when and where needed.

Gradually, as the crack widens, it leads to change not only in people, but also in the ways they interact, and finally, in how the organization operates. Changes in such things as meeting agendas, training, processes, expectations, and accountabilities deepen the crack and ratchet up the momentum while providing systemic support for the change overall. Eventually, the crack becomes an open door, and the system is well on its way to making the change part of its DNA.
How can you tell when this is working? People recognize and support the contribution of those leading and guiding the effort, often begging them not to quit. Teams pick up on one or two points related to the new behavior and adapt them for their situation. Slowly, people express trust and a willingness to hope (or, for many, hope once more). This is when momentum for the change starts to build in earnest: it goes, in the language of our organization, from nomentum to slowmentum to flowmentum—that exhilarating state where knowledge, energy, and ideas flow seamlessly across the organization, empowering everyone to do their best work.

Confronting Closure and Pressing Ahead
Sometimes, despite our collective best efforts, the system recloses anyway. Does that mean our work has gone to waste?

Reclosing can simply indicate that the organization is not ready to move forward at this point in time. It has gone as far as it can for now. The best strategy in that situation is to be honest: to communicate that the organization would do best to wait on the change effort or address the specific challenges before the change can begin. (Senior leader sponsorship is often a challenge to work on at this stage.)

Cracks and the work around them are essential for a successful change effort. The longer the crack stays open, the more opportunities begin to arise. With each opportunity seized, the energy builds, and so does the momentum.

About the Author
Corey Jamison

Corey L. Jamison is President of The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, Inc., named one of the Seven Small Jewels of consulting by Consulting magazine in 2010. For more than 20 years, she has partnered with Fortune 100 companies to improve their bottom-line performance by leveraging the power of all their people to accelerate results.

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