When any process change or culture change issue is introduced, one of the first questions management asks is “How long will this take?” or “When will we see dollars flow to the bottom line?” Time is an important element in change, but it is important to remember that time devoted to change should not be considered a negative or a sacrifice that we want to minimize.
Instead, time should be viewed is a critical element in success – without it, no real change occurs. Achieving lasting change requires time just like a seed requires time to sprout, grow roots and blossom. Time is required to design and implement process changes; even more important, it is required for people to let go of old behaviors and adopt new ones. Each individual is different in this respect, so it should not be assumed that everyone will be in the same place after 1 week or 1 month has passed.
But…how many times have we witnessed management set a drop-dead date for a process change or behavior change? This mindset comes from old school thinking about change and reflects a leadership style that is out of touch with a successful strategy for change. And, how many times has management redirected resources away from a process change or behavior change just when a breakthrough is within reach?
I tell a story about a major computer conversion where management had promised executives a go-live date. As the date approached, it was obvious that training required prior to the go-live date would not be completed. Management had two choices – stay committed to the date and cancel training or move the date and conduct the required training prior to go-live. Management decided to cancel training because they wanted to save face at corporate. As a result, corporate moved training resources to other locations because they thought that this location was “done”. Employees at this site NEVER received the training they needed, but management protected their credibility with corporate (even though they lost credibility with their own workforce).
If you are in a position of leadership, re-examine your criteria for success with change. Consider time more as an ingredient for success and less as an end-date to an investment in change – if there is a perceived end date to an initiative, the benefits that came with it begin to slip silently away as focus shifts to other issues.