Posted by: knightbird | June 8, 2010

Leading Change

I had the good fortune to find John Kotter’s book “Leading Change” in a Juneau, Alaska used book store for $.25. What a bargain. I read it over the past week, and I agree with much of what Dr. Kotter has observed over the course of his long career. I have added it to my list of recommended reading for leadership and transformation.

During Chugachmiut’s transformation, I have had the support of an incredible board of directors. When I asked them for funding to initiative a program to try to restore responsible fatherhood to our tribes, they said yes. When I asked them for funding to implement our Lean Management vision, they agreed and gave us the funding. They have also provided me with the authority to implement change, gave me the responsibility for making it happen, and held me accountable for the results. I have also felt like I have the ability to bring both good and bad news to the board, of course always accompanied with proposed solutions when necessary. It’s a good relationship and depends on honest communication.

As I read Dr. Kotter’s theories, I realized that the board gave me a good foundation for leading change. It started at my interview when I spoke about my views on the 14 Principles enunciated by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. I believe in Dr. Deming’s Principles, but I didn’t know how to implement them in a non-profit organization. I later came to understand that he wanted it that way because every implementation depends upon the workplace needs. When we talked to the board about eliminating one of Dr. Deming’s Seven Deadly Diseases, annual performance evaluations, they allowed us to. We replaced annual performance evaluations with daily and weekly evaluation. Now most of our evaluations are positive and reinforce good behaviors in our employees. Our board seems to intuitively understand how change will benefit their Tribal Members and they have supported our initiatives.

Dr. Kotter also writes about creating a guiding coalition for implementing. Although I didn’t know about this part of his theory when I started at Chugachmiut, I did attempt to enlist my Executive Team and prominent employees throughout the region. The core of my Executive Team is, to use a work my teenagers use, “Awesome.” It was their support in coming on board with our initiatives that really allowed us to implement our changes. This didn’t meant that change wasn’t scary up front, but they were willing to look at the changes and give them a try. We also engaged prominent members of our community in the change efforts, although not always up front and positively. But we learned constantly through the missteps we made as a good lean transformation should.

Change is frightening for many people, and changes may not support their individual goals. As I read Dr. Kotter’s book, I realized that we basically followed his blueprint for implementing change and we have had pretty good results. I would recommend “Leading Change” to any leader.

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