Growing up in the 80’s, these lines from Eddie Rabbitt were a Godsend in navigating the minefield of incessant teenage infatuation –
“You take that first step
Ask her out and treat her like a lady
Tell her she’s the one you’re dreaming of
Take her in your arms and never let her go
Don’t you know step by step
Step by step
You’ll win her love”
After many a misstep, I did find the one I’ve never let go since.
But I never fathomed that three decades later I would be giving the same advice to corporations. You see, change is as much a part of a modern day corporation, as daily infatuation is to the life of a teenager. And both can be navigated “step by step.”
Too often companies shy away from change only because the prospect is extremely daunting. And risky. Just like love. But we don’t give up on love easily, and neither should we give up on change. In fact, we must actively pursue it.
Try this for a start. Joe Smith is an advocate for proper paper towel use and his four minute video has over 3 million views on TED. It’s a small change, with little risk, and is very easy to implement. It feels good too. Go ahead, watch the video and you will make a difference in no time.
There are also a few lessons one can learn from both Eddie Rabbitt and Joe Smith:
1. Start small
Though a little cliched, this is the best advice one can give. Saving the forest starts with a small change in the way we dry our hands. Companies would do well to institute a policy where small changes are encouraged and celebrated. Reducing waste, saving time, improving workflow, anything that makes the smallest difference. Then grow the change into something bigger. Starting small also means that if you fail, you fail fast and fail cheap, thereby cutting out the risk. You also create a culture of embracing change within the company, which helps to make that big radical shift easily accepted.
2. Be proactive
Take that first step yourself. Don’t wait too long. Or wait for someone else to be the prime mover. The best time to start making a change is when you’re doing well. This way you avoid becoming complacent. Drop the SWOT analysis and get moving. Asking the lady out will receive a no at worst. And since you haven’t bought the ring yet, you can cut your losses and move on.
3. Make your goal a clear image
You are looking at “taking her in your arms and never letting go.” That is a very clear yet playful image of the goal. What you’re looking for is an uplifting vision that may even be a little abstract. Instead of a “happier workforce” how about going with “more smiles per square meter of workspace”?
4. Be a strong advocate for change
A leader must believe in the mantra of change and become a role model for it. To paraphrase Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, you have to believe that “change is good, change works.” If it is left to others while the boss goes about business as usual, the company ends up nowhere. You must also show your enthusiasm for change. Make up a song like Eddie Rabbitt’s, lead the charge with a poster competition, or a corporate slogan. Let your staff feel how much you appreciate moving forward through change.
5. Learn to listen
Most of us will benefit by changing ourselves into better listeners. Active, non-judgmental listening is a skill that helps you whether you are in an amorous pursuit, or listenting to your subordinate plugging an idea. Your genuine interest in what someone has to say is a huge turn on, and a great motivator. In the corporate world it could mean a more engaged and proactive work force, leading to more and more change for the better. It might help you actually get to the stage of “holding her in your arms, and never letting go.”
Step by step, of course.
Rumman Ahmad is an MSc in Creativity and Change Leadership from Buffalo State University. He trains, teaches and facilitates groups of people to learn and apply the creative process to solve problems, energising and motivating them to do their best. He is also the organiser of an annual conference on innovation in Pakistan.