You need to experience the pain, in order to drive organizational gain.
I recently read the Harvard Business Review article, “Tipping Point Leadership”, which talked about Police Chief Bill Bratton, and how he transformed New York from the city with the highest crime rate to the city with the lowest crime rate through a series of very effective changes. Bratton used tipping point leadership techniques to make this happen, which included aligning resources with the most important changes, silencing naysayers and mobilizing strategic and respected players in the change activities.
However, the technique that stood out the most to me was this: “To make a compelling case for change, don’t just point at the numbers and demand better ones. Your abstract message won’t stick. Instead, make key managers experience your organization’s problems.”
Here is one example from Bratton’s playbook. At that time, New Yorker’s viewed the subways as one of the most dangerous places in their city. The NY Transit’s senior staff ignored this feedback and believed that the subway riders were over-reacting. To change their mind-set, Bratton required all New York transit officers, including himself, to commute to work by subway. Once they observed and experienced the pain directly, i.e. the gangs, the criminals and the overcrowded conditions, they grasped the need for change . They also took responsibility for making it happen.
These type of “aha” experiences do not all have to happen on a subway. You can experience the same things on a few conference calls. Here is an example.
I recently received feedback from a key leader in my organization that he and his team members were being asked to do things that were beyond their scope of work. As a result, morale was suffering and some of their primary duties were being neglected.
I understood that change would need to happen, but did not realize the urgency until I personally experienced the pain. I started by attending a series of meetings with the leader. First hand, I heard the demands, felt the pressure and met all of the key players. I also put myself out there to respond to some of the demands. After these experiences, “I got it” and took personal responsibility for driving faster change.
This experience reminded me that I can not just rely on reports, presentations and conversations to understand what changes need to happen. I must put myself out there and experience first hand what my teams experience every day.