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So which change approach do you subscribe to? When you lead change, do you start with getting clear about the desired individual behaviors and then align the organization to reinforce those behaviors? Or do you start by getting clear about the focus of the organization and then getting people on board? It's hard to choose one or the other, isn't it? They both seem like solid, logical ways to change.

So we asked ourselves: does it have to be either/or? We engaged in change endeavors with clients, watched, and used both approaches. Over and over we wondered: does it have to be either/or?

After many years of considering this question, we have found the answer is "no." In fact, for change to be sustainable, our answer is a resounding no! Even though it hasn't been written about a great deal, here's the truth as we know it: lasting change requires both an inside-out and an outside-in approach. It has to. How many times have you seen change fail because it started at the top but fizzled out by the time it got down to employees? Or your organization sent employees to a workshop and they got excited about
personal improvement, only to go back to their jobs and run up against the processes, structures, or policies that were not aligned with their new, changed behavior? Robert Pirsig described it well when he said the following:

If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then the rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the
succeeding government.

In short, to change a team or business, you have to change both the thoughts and beliefs and the structure and systems. And to get it to stick, all levels of the organization have to be focused, aligned, and engaged on the same thing—and that takes leadership! Great leaders of change engage both individuals 'and' the
organization. We call this inside-out and outside-in change. For change to be successful, it must include both outside-in and inside-out efforts that become the two key elements of a reinforcing loop.

"Organizational change, when you get right down to it, boils down to persuading massive numbers of people to stop doing what they've been doing for years and to start doing something they probably don't want to do—at least not at first."
—David Nadler, leadership consultant and author

Think of a change you were involved in, either personally or professionally, that was successful. Likely your success with change included the following elements:

* A clear dissatisfaction or discomfort with the current state

* A clear vision of the future describing how it would look and feel

* A plan to improve performance

* An alignment of the processes, structure, and systems designed to achieve the vision

* Clear steps to enable greater collaboration between leaders and teams

* A plan to increase the engagement, capacity, and capability of people in the organization

* A plan to improve the individual skills required to implement the change

If you think about the successes, you will likely see a pattern of both outside-in and inside-out efforts going on simultaneously. Together these reinforce each other to create improved results.

On the other hand, we have watched campaigns of change full of important speeches, fancy slogans and promises, and music blaring from the bandstands that ultimately went nowhere and produced very few tangible results. These failures likely included attempts at either outside-in or inside-out change, but didn't address both. The cost of poor change leadership is staggering and often leads to the following:

* A low sense of urgency

* Little understanding about the reasons for change

* A lack of commitment and action from frontline employees who ask, "What's in it for me?"

* Organizational obstacles obstructing the path of implementation

* A culture and organization architecture that inhibits rather than enables behavior change

If you think about change failures, you'll likely see leaders not working at all three levels of the organization.


1: Change the Way You Change!
2: Accelerating Focus
3: Accelerating Alignment
4: Accelerating Engagement
5: Accelerating Leadership
6: Ensuring Sustainability

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