Why quick wins are critical in leading change


It is well known that making change in organisations is extremely challenging. Change is difficult because there are so many reasons why things should stay the same.

“That’s just how it is here”

“We’ve always done it that way”

“They won’t change the way they do it”

What characterises many troubled organisations that I’ve consulted to is an aura of defeat and helplessness within its employees. Often what I find the most surprising is that many of the people know things aren’t great, but they don’t feel as if it could be any different.

John Kotter published a well known article in 2007 called “Why Transformation Efforts Fail” which contained eight steps to enable organisational change. That link is for paid subscribers, but this article from mindtools does a good job of summarising the steps.

One of these steps is to generate quick wins.

Why quick wins in change leadership really matter

A quick win is a small victory. A minor aspect of a greater goal that has been achieved, relatively fast.

There are a number of reasons that quick wins in change leadership make a huge difference. There can be a tendency to look toward a grand vision of the future, but really you need to be focusing on getting there one step at a time. At each step, you need to be winning. And when you win, you need to tell everybody that you, as a team, are winning.

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Quick wins in change leadership prove that change can happen

Even the smallest of successes can prove a point. Last week your team was managing their tasks on paper notepads. Today you’re using a simple online tool, where there is greater visibility of what’s happening.

That’s a quick win.

Quick wins prove that change can happen, no matter how small. The people who say “that’s how it has always been” can now see that it doesn’t have to be that way. Something has changed. If one thing has changed, why can’t another?

Quick wins in change leadership build momentum

Momentum is king. If you continue to strive for a long-term vision over months and years, it becomes a drag. To sustain this type of effort, you need continuity of resources and you need people who really care and who keep on pushing. These people are hard to find.

That’s why you want to build momentum with small win after small win. Quick wins are energising and they give people energy to kick on to the next one, because they can see they’re making a difference.

Quick wins in change leadership can be celebrated

If you don’t achieve anything until you achieve your grand vision months and years from now, it’s hard to celebrate. Quick wins allow you a point in time where you can take a checkpoint and celebrate the win.

Hold a small morning tea for a job well done. Go out for coffee. Do something, and let everybody know that the reason this is happening is because you won. A small win, perhaps, but a win nonetheless.

Without celebration points, change becomes a grind, and only the most hardy individuals will stay around long enough to see it through.

Making change is extremely difficult. Whether you’re trying to implement a new way of working, roll out a big new system or provide a service your organisation has never tried before, it’s tough.

Quick wins will make the job easier for you. Don’t give up on change, because change is the only way to get to where you want to go.

And it’s always easier when you’re winning.

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