To make change easier, I am always seeking new perspectives that I can share with audiences and clients. The following two analogies connect with many people. Perhaps they will give you a new perspective that will make change easier and faster.

Early rockets were designed with two stages – one with the power to “lift off” and the other to boost the rocket high enough so that it could orbit the Earth several times before being pulled back by gravity. Two stages were adequate for the mission UNTIL we decided to go to the moon. That’s when the Saturn V rocket was developed, the first rocket to have 3 stages. The 3rd stage is what allowed the astronauts to escape the Earth’s gravitational pull. Without it, none of the Apollo missions would have been successful and Neil Armstrong would never have been the first man to walk on the moon.

How does this relate to the change journey? From my perspective, there are three stages in the change process. The first stage is a focus on getting better by incorporating TQM, Six Sigma, Lean, etc. All of these initiatives are process-focused and strive for improvements and/or the best in process design and execution. This work is very important to the journey but it does not always meet expectations and the reasons for the shortfalls are often misunderstood or hidden.

When a company makes a conscious decision to strive for a higher level of prefection, they move to Stage 2, where the focus is mostly on equipment and systems involved in the production process. Millions of dollars can be approved to upgrade equipment and systems to the best technology available. The expected ROI includes more profit, less variation, maximum predictability and often fewer people. At this point, companies assume that they have done everything required to optimize performance. However, the return on equipment and systems does not always meet expectations and the reasons for the shortfalls are not fully understood.

Why are Stages 1 and 2 insufficient? Because they do not remove the hidden barriers to change. That’s where Stage 3 work comes in. Without this stage, companies will not be able to achieve their best performance OR an amazing culture OR strong management teams that are united to achieve one goal. Stage 3 on the Saturn V rocket was required to get to the moon. Likewise, Stage 3 work is required to capture all of your potential for improvement.

Race cars are like equipment and systems when it comes to change. Race cars can cost millions of dollars and companies will to spend that kind of money for a chance to win the race. Likewise, companies make big investments in both to achieve success with change.

But… what if the race track had potholes and traffic cones on it? Race cars would have to slow down to avoid these hazards and the racing teams would NEVER experience the potential of their cars to win. In the change process, companies believe that they have done everything right and expect big returns for their efforts. But… they don’t know how to recognize or remove the barriers in the culture and management system that stand in their way. As a result, they forfeit the opportunity to capture all the upside potential that’s out there.

How much faster could they change if the barriers were removed? How much more money could they make if they understood what was holding them back?