Change management and the power of small wins

Change management and the power of small wins

Posted by Torben Rick | March 25, 2014 | Change Management
Change management and the power of small wins

Power of small wins for successful change management

When there is a daunting mountain to climb, it is often best to break it into molehills.

Large change management problems are best broken down into smaller ones with concrete achievable goals. Otherwise it can be so overwhelming that solutions seem unattainable – therefore, people often avoid tackling them or come up with single, grand programs that fail.

Breaking such problems down into a series of more modest steps

Breaking such problems down into a series of more modest steps, all on the path to the ultimate goal, reduces fear, clarifies direction, and increases the probability of early successful outcomes – boosting support for further action.

Small wins can have a huge impact on changing organizational culture

It is critical for teams and individuals working on complex problems to achieve small wins regularly. Because setbacks are so common in truly important problems, people become disheartened unless they can point to some meaningful advance most days, even if that advance is seemingly minor, and even if it involves nothing more than extracting insights from the day’s failures.

Organizational change – The whales versus dolphins concept

The “whales vs. dolphins” concept involves dividing large projects into a series of short steps or phases – similar to how dolphins breathe. Each step delivers quantifiable benefits and recognizes success.

Organizational change - The whales versus dolphins concept

Change management and the power of small wins

Short term wins are serving four important purposes

  1. Wins provide feedback to change leaders about the validity of their visions and strategies
  2. Wins give those working hard to achieve a vision a pat on the back, an emotional uplift
  3. Wins build faith in the effort, attracting those who are not yet actively helping
  4. Wins take power away from cynics

This strategy propels long-term goal achievement. In his book, “Good Boss, Bad Boss”, Stanford University professor Bob Suttonargues that:

Big, hairy, audacious, goals are not only daunting, but they are usually too obvious and too broad to provide useful guidance for day-to-day work

Similarly, author Peter Sims emphasizes the importance of incremental goal-setting in “Little Bets”.

Empower employees to act on the change as soon as possible and reward short term wins in order to celebrate changes and apply positive reinforcement

Many companies will go through some considerable change effort in its life

Everyone wants to be a winner but the reality is that in the competitive world of business, almost all, if not every, company will go through some considerable change effort in its life.

However even when times are tough and the proverbial has well and truly hit the fan, and losing seems the constant outcome, its then that feeling like a winner can make a material difference to the bottom line. One last remark: If you want something to grow, don’t forget to pour champagne on it.

Change management and the power of small wins - Takline celebrating a good fiscal year

Change management and the power of small wins – Takline celebrating a good fiscal year

The power of small wins on changing organizational culture

The power of small wins on changing organizational culture – Verdo Tele celebrating 40% in market share

— oOo —

Highlight from LinkedIn group discussion:

Glenda Graham:

Sometimes we can feel weighed down by the many and complex challenges of the change process. Far better to break it down to achieve wins along the way.

Stephen Selby:

I agree and some people find change difficult and having a small win can demonstrate to these people that the change is good and it does work.

John Giesen:

I think it is essential to see change in this way. To truly embed change there needs to be trust and in my experience trust comes when people can see the change in the company. It is not a one way street.

Urban Knutsson:

The small wins are what makes improvement continuous. The whales are big and discontinuous, which is also needed, but also a lot more disruptive. People dislike disruption …

Boudewijn Roubroeks:

Organizations can not make changes. People can. Organizations are rational, logical creations. People are emotional beings. They are opposites as long as we do not follow the path of nature. Big changes in nature are mostly devastating. Nature changes mostly in many small steps. Hence Torben Rick is right when he says that only small steps work if one wants both organization and human to Thrive whilst in the process of change. Thanks Torben!

Michael Smith:

I agree. It is important in any change initiative to have these milestones set up to gauge positive progress. Once achieved, celebrating is most important. This celebration also allows a chance to focus on the next milestone. It is important that these milestones are always in the “line of sight”. It will build momentum.

Jose Santiago:

Torben, i have to agree with you. Starting with a few they each bring their own and so the small changes gain traction and it happens, maybe not quickly, but it happens.

Ian Pratt:

The best win is the one that proves the future is possible, sell it like crazy and life becomes easy

Simone Guest

Small steps and celebrating wins are so important but I would like to add a focus on maintaining those small wins. Often we move on to the next milestone and forget about making the change stick..and people by nature fall back into old ways. Keep the small steps build incrementally and don’t forget to focus on maintaining the successes.

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About The Author

Torben Rick

Experienced senior executive, both at a strategic and operational level, with strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement, development and change management. International experience from management positions in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

Blog Comments

I like your incremental approach. I have been serving my clients in a similar manner. People want to join something that is working. Incremental wins onboard more and more people with each positve announement.

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