Change Management: It’s Still Why Before How

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

 Change Management: It’s Still Why Before How

I was taking part in a conversation on LEAN. Someone posed the question about what incentives people needed in order to support LEAN (a waste reduction process). As I read through the thoughtful responses, I noticed there was little about why people might be motivated to support LEAN in the first place. The responses spoke of incentives, providing good direction, and so forth. Nothing alluding to the importance of understanding why a change was even needed. Basic, but often overlooked. Here is how I responded.

I like a lot of what’s been said, especially those comments that encourage people to be part of the process and see the value of what LEAN can offer.  I agree with the comments that most people come to work wanting to do a good job.

One thing seems to be missing though, and I think it is missing in a lot of organizational change projects.  Leaders fail to make a compelling case that a change is needed. (Kotter refers to this as sense of urgency). I describe it as Why before How. People need to see WHY a change is needed before they are interested in what and HOW they are going to do it.

The WHY has nothing to do with LEAN itself, but everything to do with the conditions and pressures facing the organization today. WHY should get people to say, “Wow! How are we going to tackle that?”



In an effort to get the work started, well-meaning leaders often take WHY for granted and move right to HOW. I believe people need to see and feel the need to change.  PowerPoint usually does not put fire into people’s bellies. PowerPoint (the influence tool of choice in many organizations) is good at providing data, but falls short when it comes to the emotional wallop that lets people feel that a change is needed. I recall a company that lost a major contract that resulted in their losing over half of their revenues. Instead of the usual presentations and executive pronouncements, they started the planning meeting off with someone from the contracting office of their former customer. I was told that you could hear a pin drop as this person told them why they lost. The speaker didn’t need to be dynamic or have good stories. People in that company wanted to hear what she had to say.

Once a critical mass of stakeholders see WHY change is needed, then most can’t wait to 1. work with leaders to find a way to tackle the problem or seize the opportunity, and 2. do what it takes to make the change a success.

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