Truth You Need To Understand Before Starting Lean Change

I love change manuals. They soothe me. They just don’t work.  

Wow! That moment when you get that 110 page strategic change manual, with those amazingly detailed milestones, clear roles and responsibilities, new organization model with new KPIs, a perfect picture of the “to be” situation, and you feel that the work is almost done, you are just lacking a communication e-mail to everyone about this new amazing strategic change, and this will be as good as done… 

…And then, it was time to wake up!  

Factors To Consider in Lean Change

Change initiatives can’t be planned up front. We can’t sit in an ivory tower expecting things to go according to a change management handbook, like we would be assembling a new factory line in a linear fashion.  

In organizational change we are dealing with people; complex social networks, emotions, fear, insight, learning, cognition, agreements, negotiation, focus, attention. Leading change is like navigating across a landscape that is constantly changing shape, speed and reactions. Your change manual is out the window in the first turn, dude! So better just start with the assumptions that leading change will be a stepwise, iterative, messy, emotional experience where you have to build in plenty of communication, ongoing feedback loops and frequent pivoting along the way.  

OK, So How Do I Do It?

There are many different change management “theories” offering stepwise guides to lead complex change. One of the most well known includes creating a burning platform as the first step. Creating a “burning platform” is a very strange first step for influencing people to changing behavior, thinking and actions. It does the opposite! The “burning platform” semantics might lead to a situation where people, managers and teams go into “protect yourselves, heads are about to fall!”, or “I’ll start looking for a new job” -mode.  

When standing on a burning platform the fight, flight or freeze mode sets in.  

This stress mode turns off the parts of the brain people need most for creative thinking, healthy social interaction, collaboration and more complex cognitive learning and thinking. “Save yourselves!” is the unconscious message you are sending. Please burn platforms only when they really are on fire, meaning for turnarounds and critical changes. There have been so many “boys who cried wolf” before you, people will have a hard time believing this time it is for real, or those who do, start saving themselves or adding gasoline into the flames by over-dramatizing things.  

 Leading Change Using Lean Methodologies

I’ve been leading changes, bigger and smaller for almost my entire career. The most important “tools” I use are empathy, respect for people and a determination for moving forward in a solution focused way through difficult and messy situations. I don’t let my organizations or clients go into freeze mode.  

Lean Change Methodologies and agile techniques are helping me navigate through this complexity. Creating environments where insight is arising (answering us what we should change, continue with, stop doing short term, and revealing what is necessary to prepare for mid-term). Having necessary dialogues about options forward with relevant stakeholders and people who are impacted by the change. Finding data, facts and real life proof through experiments of different kind, of whether or not the suggested solution really is helping or solving anything in the organization. Pivoting if necessary. Using lean and agile tools to visualize and focus attention and energy. Helping the leaders and employees own the change, not “managing change” for them.  

 Navigating Through Challeges

A major challenge is: how do you sell this philosophy of change management to people who are used to “buying the perfect picture of  future state and a manual to get there”?

How do you say : “Listen dude, I know where abouts we should be heading with these 3000 people. You are also telling me where abouts this organization is now, but I’m not sure we can trust that assessment. I have no idea which things will work, but I am a world-class pro in finding out together with your people. You should pay me for exploring and navigating through change with you.?

Can you promise you will succeed?  

“I can’t, and those who do, are lying to you”.  

We’re lucky, though. During the last two years I have met more and more executives who already think through agile lenses, who use iterative way of leading businesses and understand the complexity of human nature.  

They are boarding their ships and start navigating, together with their vendors. That’s pretty awesome!


If you’re in Helsinki January 15-16 2018, read on! You’ll have a unique opportunity to learn by doing how to apply better, innovative practices to manage change. Jason Little, author of “Lean Change Management”, international speaker and Agile Management Consultant, is having a workshop to help you discover more effective practices for introducing, and managing change in your organization.

Seats are almost filled so book your spot early on!


people analytics

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *