Leading Continuous Change

Navigating Churn in the Real World

Bill Pasmore (Author)

Publication date: 07/16/2015

Leading Continuous Change
Most change efforts fail because most change methods are built to deal with single challenges in a nice, neat, linear way. But leaders know that today, pressures for change don't come at you one at a time; they come all at once. It's like riding a roller coaster: sudden drops, jarring turns, anxious climbs into the unknown. Drawing on his years of experience at the Center for Creative Leadership and Columbia University, Bill Pasmore offers a four-part model and four mindsets that allow leaders to deal with multiple changes simultaneously without drowning in the churn.

The first step, Pasmore says, is to
Discover which external pressures for change are the most necessary to address. The key here is to think fewer—step away from the buffet of possibilities and pinpoint the highest-impact options. Then you need to Decide how many change efforts your organization can handle. Here the mindset is to think scarcer—you have only so many people and so many resources, so how do you best use them? Once you've figured that out, it's time to Do—and here you want to think faster. Streamline processes and engage in rapid prototyping so you can learn quickly and cost-effectively. The last step is to Discern what worked and what didn't, so think smarter—develop metrics, identify trends, and make sure learnings are disseminated throughout the organization.

For each stage of the process, Pasmore offers detailed advice, practical tools, and real-world examples. This book is a comprehensive guide to navigating change the way it happens now.

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Overview

Most change efforts fail because most change methods are built to deal with single challenges in a nice, neat, linear way. But leaders know that today, pressures for change don't come at you one at a time; they come all at once. It's like riding a roller coaster: sudden drops, jarring turns, anxious climbs into the unknown. Drawing on his years of experience at the Center for Creative Leadership and Columbia University, Bill Pasmore offers a four-part model and four mindsets that allow leaders to deal with multiple changes simultaneously without drowning in the churn.

The first step, Pasmore says, is to
Discover which external pressures for change are the most necessary to address. The key here is to think fewer—step away from the buffet of possibilities and pinpoint the highest-impact options. Then you need to Decide how many change efforts your organization can handle. Here the mindset is to think scarcer—you have only so many people and so many resources, so how do you best use them? Once you've figured that out, it's time to Do—and here you want to think faster. Streamline processes and engage in rapid prototyping so you can learn quickly and cost-effectively. The last step is to Discern what worked and what didn't, so think smarter—develop metrics, identify trends, and make sure learnings are disseminated throughout the organization.

For each stage of the process, Pasmore offers detailed advice, practical tools, and real-world examples. This book is a comprehensive guide to navigating change the way it happens now.

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Meet the Author


Visit Author Page - Bill Pasmore

Bill Pasmore holds the position of Professor of Practice at Teachers College, Columbia University, in which he helps link scholarship in the field of organization development & leadership to practice. He teaches in the College’s doctoral and masters degree programs and conducts research in leadership and organizational change.

Bill is also Senior Vice President at the Center for Creative Leadership with responsibilities for the organization’s global organizational leadership business. Before that, he was a senior partner with the New York-based consulting firm, Oliver Wyman Delta Consulting, and prior to that, a tenured full professor in the School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.

As a thought leader in the field of organization development, he has published twenty-five books and numerous articles, including Developing a Leadership Strategy, Designing Effective Organizations, Creating Strategic Change, Research in Organization Change and Development, and Relationships that Enable Enterprise Change. His latest is Leading Continuous Change: Navigating Churn in the Real World, to be published by Berrett Koehler in August of 2015.

He resides in New York with his wife, Mary and is the proud father of two young professional women pursuing careers in social media marketing and consulting.

Bill holds a BS in Aeronautical Engineering/Industrial Management and a Ph.D. in Administrative Sciences, both from Purdue University.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by John Ryan, President & CEO, Center for Creative Leadership
Preface
1. Riding the Coaster
2. Leading Complex, Continuous Change
3. Discovering: Think Fewer
4. Deciding: Think Scarcer
5. Doing: Think Faster
6. Discerning: Think Smarter
7. Building Greater Change Capacity over Time 
8. The Key Message and Guidelines for Action
Appendix: A Checklist for Assessing Where You Are
Appendix B: Leading Continuous Change Self-Assessment

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Excerpt

Foreword
WHEN I WAS IN MY EARLY TWENTIES , the US Navy taught me how to fly airplanes. It took considerable study and work, as well as great coaches. Under their direction it was not long before my fellow rookie pilots and I were mastering takeoffs, landings, formation flying, and all the complex steps in between. Then they presented the next challenge: landing on aircraft carriers.

If you have never tried to do this, I'll tell you what an aircraft carrier looks like from 20,000 feet: pretty darn small. After a couple weeks of intense practice and feedback from our coaches, the moment of truth arrived: it was time to actually land on an aircraft carrier. That meant there was no room for error. Your only option was to bring the plane down exactly right.

Certainly, we trained hard for that moment. But in all honesty, no amount of practice on a runway can prepare you for landing on an aircraft carrier at sea. You have to account for shifting winds and the fact that the ship is rocking in the water, not to mention the tiny landing strip you're targeting. If you are planning to pull this off, you need to adapt and react—very, very quickly.

As I meet with the leaders of the many businesses, government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and educational institutions that the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) is privileged to serve around the world, it strikes me that they are trying to do something quite similar to—and ultimately far more difficult than—landing on an aircraft carrier. They are trying to guide their organizations through an era of complexity and change that is unfolding at unprecedented speed, and finding the right place to land takes all the vision, skill, and courage they can muster. Like US Navy pilots soaring high above the ocean, they have no room for error. These executives need to get it exactly right. Their employees, clients, and communities are counting on that.

Yet all too often, disaster strikes.

Research shows that 50 to 70 percent of organizational change initiatives fail, wasting untold sums of talent, money, productivity, and opportunity. That is the story of the doomed DaimlerChrysler and AOL–Time Warner mergers and the disintegration of Polaroid. Even companies with very impressive track records, like Procter & Gamble and Walmart, have had to exit some countries where their usual recipe for success did not work.

Over the years in executive leadership roles with the US Navy, the State University of New York, and the Center for Creative Leadership, I have attempted to lead through the kinds of complexity that Bill Pasmore writes about in this book, and his guidance is right on the mark. Change initiatives fail, fundamentally, because leaders lack sufficient focus and a comprehensive plan. And that's usually because we are too consumed with the crisis of the day to take the necessary time to pause and reflect on the broader, deeper factors that will really determine longer-term results. As we say at CCL, leaders need to slow down to speed up.

And as with US Navy pilots, they need a great coach who can show them how to do that. Bill is that coach, and in this book he generously distills the remarkable wisdom he has gained over 40 years of researching, teaching, and consulting on change. For the better part of a decade, Bill has been a colleague of mine at CCL, where he has assisted numerous clients globally—many of them in the Fortune 500—with successfully navigating the complexities of change.

His opening advice for clients essentially boils down to this: check your ego at the door. The fact is that almost no one has done a great job of figuring out the intricacies of leading through continuous change, in large part because there's not a predictable formula for it. Every change initiative demands a customized approach that must first be created and then constantly adjusted as conditions evolve.

Bill cannot offer the Easy Button that the iconic Staples advertising campaign made popular, but in this book he does deliver an invaluable four-step framework for leading change. His emphasis on Discovering, Deciding, Doing, and Discerning offers a superb starting point for mapping out change initiatives in organizations of every size and type in any sector.

As a member of several corporate boards, I have learned the importance of stepping back and looking at the larger reality of what's happening in a business environment, which makes it possible to help leaders see things that they might ordinarily miss because they are too focused on narrow objectives. The process Bill describes equips every leader to take the stance of a board member, of someone who cares deeply about the success of the organization and is thus willing to challenge conventional thinking in search of bolder and smarter alternatives.

While leading change is the kind of topic that can easily elicit theoretical responses, Bill remains eminently practical, breaking the extremely challenging process of change into manageable increments that make the seemingly impossible finally approachable. And that is a welcome gift because the sooner business leaders understand and experiment with the principles of leading change, the sooner they can build better, more sustainable businesses for the benefit of everyone. Bill's trenchant insights, applied by the governments, NGOs, and educational institutions that are just as critical to the health of society, will help us build a better world, too.

John R. Ryan

President and CEO

Center for Creative Leadership

March 2015

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Endorsements

“Organizational change tends to fall apart under the weight of its own grandiose goals, chaotic initiatives, and crushing complexity. There is true wisdom—drawn from Bill Pasmore's forty years of research and personal experience—in the underlying simplicity of his message: ‘Think fewer. Think scarcer. Think faster. Think smarter.'”
Mark Nadler, Principal and cofounder, Nadler Advisory Services

“Reasons abound for why so many organization change efforts fail, but one of the most important is that leaders soon discover that getting the change process right is very difficult. Bill Pasmore provides helpful measurements and case examples that can raise the percentage rate for success well beyond where we remain today, at a dismal 30 percent.”
W. Warner Burke, Edward Lee Thorndike Professor of Psychology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

“In this outstanding and very readable book, Bill Pasmore shows why conventional approaches to leading change don't work and provides new insights and practical guidelines for leading systemic change.”
Michael Beer, Professor Emeritus, Harvard Business School; cofounder and Chairman, Center for Higher Ambition Leadership; and cofounder and Director, TruePoint

“The high failure rate for organizational change efforts tells me that the so-called experts really don't know how to manage change. But Bill Pasmore does, and here he provides what leaders in every sector at every level desperately need: a trove of practical advice, a tested playbook, and the inspiring assurance that complexity truly can bring out the best in us.”
Vice Admiral Cutler Dawson, USN (Ret.), President and CEO, Navy Federal Credit Union

“Bill Pasmore has again leveraged his significant experience in working with real-world organizations facing complex challenges. He provides a clear and compelling framework to guide leaders who are responsible for successfully executing change in today's environment.” 
Vance Tang, Director, Comfort Systems USA and American Woodmark, and former President and CEO, KONE Inc.

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