Strategies: Make Change Initiatives Stick

One of my favorite questions to ask in my No-Compromise Leadership workshops is, "What's your hang time on change initiatives?" When I say, "hang time," I'm referring to how long the change initiative remains in play before it fizzles or crashes and burns. At many companies, change initiatives resemble amateur rocket launches. There's the heart-pounding and powerful rumble, fire and smoke plumes as the rocket lifts off the launch pad and rises into the sky. Leaders watch in awe as their shiny new rocket arches down range toward the heavens. But rather than breaking free of earth's gravity, it continues its arch until it gracefully heads back to earth where it ends its journey in a distant thud.

When implementing change initiatives in companies, I always hear employees say, "We've tried that before and it didn't work," or, "They never finish what they start." The ability of a company to consistently push a new system or project across the finish line speaks volumes about its leadership, collective accountability and culture. Change is about adapting and getting better - getting to that elusive next level. But when change initiatives routinely crash and burn, an internal funk permeates the entire company impacting productivity and profitability.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to make your change initiatives stick:

  • The right mission at the right time: Think through your change initiatives and be sure it's what your company really needs. More importantly, be sure that your company has the talent and resources to drive the change initiative. Too often, change initiatives fail, not because of the initiative itself, but because the company has more pressing issues that need to be addressed first. Maybe there are cultural and behavioral issues that exist that will sabotage the change initiative. Maybe leadership has a history of lots of starts and few finishes. Maybe its weak financial control and accountability. The key is to drill down on what really to change first.
  • Absolute clarity is non-negotiable: Change initiatives usually fail because they're half-baked plans that few understand when you hit the launch button. Change initiatives that stick are planned out in detail with contingency plans should the inevitable "oops" occur. Absolute clarity is like showing everyone in the company a computer generated simulation of why the change is worthy and vital to the success of the company - and exactly how it will play out from launch to being fully integrated into the company's culture, systems, thinking and behavior. Fuzzy change never works.
  • Time your launch sequences: One of Apple's core disciplines is the ability to focus its resources on only one or a few initiatives at a time. Getting right is a core a discipline. Not launching until its right is a core discipline. The iPad was actually being developed before the iPhone. When Steve Jobs saw the technology and how it could work in a touch screen phone, the iPad was put on hold and all resources were focused building the iPhone. Many entrepreneurs and leaders lack the discipline to focus and put exciting projects on the back burner and end up stretching resources and, ultimately, compromising the end result. No-compromise leaders focus on getting few things right at a time. Compromise is not an option.
  • Urgency is the energy: Launching a change initiative requires massive amounts of energy. But too many leaders channel all the urgency into the actual launch. Urgency is the energy of change. Dialing back the sense of urgency too soon after launch powers down the change initiative way too soon. And once its powered down, its almost impossible to powerful up again without creating drama, blame and disfunction. No-compromise leaders keep their urgency dial cranked up until change takes hold and then dial it back in measured increments to avoid stalling.
  • Don't leave mission control: If you leave mission control shortly after launch, expect to hear a thud in the distance as you exit the building. No-compromise leaders own their change initiatives. They're present and engaged. They see it through. Stay at mission control until change sticks. No compromise.

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Neil Ducoff, Founder & CEO 

About: Neil Ducoff is the founder and CEO of Strategies. Since 1993, Strategies has been transforming salon and spa businesses into dynamic, profitable, and sustainable team-based cultures. Neil is a business trainer, coach, keynote speaker and award-winning author. For more information on Neil and Strategies, go to You can email Neil at [email protected]