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  • Writer's pictureMike Freislich

build and maintain momentum : the secret sauce of successful transformations

build and maintain momentum - the secret sauce of successful transformations

I have been implicated in a vast array of change initiatives. Whether shifting a team from a loose development process to an agile method, or shifting an entire organization and it's array of contractor companies towards more effective delivery, I have found that successful change has come from those initiatives where we truly kept the foot on the accelerator.


There are many things to consider when implementing changes, especially when it comes to change involving hundreds of people. It is easy to get lost in the minutia of all the detail. Detail is important for sure, but even more important is keeping momentum. Nothing spells reversion quite like communicating about change, and then ... ... waiting before you do anything. The number of initiatives I've seen where, good systems were set up in tools, communicated to everyone and then .... nothing. Without frequent checkin and adaptation to reality, change doesn't stand a chance with the masses.


Here are 10 pointers to mull over when you're wanting to build momentum into transformative organizational change:


  1. Don't do it alone! Always include people from the group impacted, in order to design and implement change together.

  2. Attract a sponsor in the organization with a strong desire to assist, motivate the need for and authorize the proposed changes / improvements. The sponsor and a significant level of involvement and time will be critical to maintaining momentum later. Be clear on the time investment needed from the sponsor up front. A disengaged or seagull or absent sponsor is a good way to lose change momentum fast.

  3. Build a change team. Assemble a small group of people (I find six people is a good number) who bridge the hierarchy of the impacted area, as well as a cross section of roles that generate value. The sponsor is usually important to have as part of this team. Members of this team should have high levels of influence within the areas they represent. The change team will be identifying the north star, and building and facilitating the change flow / iterations going forward. Members will also need to make a significant time investment in planning, communicating and facilitating change going forward. Or we will lose momentum.

  4. Design, operate and evolve a change flow - A change flow is an iterative and incremental change plan leading results towards a north star. The change team will meet at regular and frequent cadence to plan, do, check and act cycles within incremental goals and activities of change that allow us to persevere towards the north star or desired outcomes. In other words, don't create a big upfront design with bells and whistles all singing and dance. If operating change and the organizational level, spin off auxilliary change flows for large initiatives, each which have their own change team.

  5. Identify and assemble a design team - This is a team within the change context of the organization, including impacted people. The design team will no doubt be larger than the change team, and of course include some or all of the change team members. This team will actually design a change. Run a change design workshop, or a series of design workshops with the design team, in which the change is designed and made ready for the larger audience to get involved.

  6. Use the sounding board format to grow the audience, and gather interest as well as feedback and input into the design. The idea of this format, is not just to present the design for change. Rather we want people to interact with the change. It might be a good thing to have people run through a simulation of how things would work once the change is in place. This will resonate more deeply, and show problems or opportunities to improve the change design.

  7. Spar with your sponsor(s) and key stakeholders at a high frequency - This is a 1 on 1 format for high bandwidth communication and sharing of ideas. A sparring relationship is different from a coaching or consulting relationship, in that both participants are on equal stature. Both can bring ideas for validating and scrutiny. Both may leave with actions. We want to mind-meld in order to improve our own mental models of what is possible and what actions are needed in order to keep moving things forward. We probably don't want more than a week or two at most to go by without holding a sponsor sparring session. Rather keep these sessions short and frequent, than long and spread out.

  8. Prioritize action over perfection - don't let weeks go by between designs, planning, decisions and actions. Don't plan everything detail. Utilize the change flow to set small, incremental goals towards the north star, and act! It is better to hold workshops / sounding boards frequently with an ever-expanding audience from which we derive meaningful actions that move us forward towards operational change, than to plan the perfect blueprint to implement.

  9. Move into operating the change quickly, as soon as is responsibly possible. We can know and plan for everything up front. The sooner we start operating change, the sooner we have feedback loops and are able to deal with the challenges that arise.

  10. Build feedback loops into everything in to improve the change and operation of a new ways of work as we go.. Whether these are feedback loops with individuals implementing new process, or feedback between sub level change flows and organizational change flow iterations, or overall change iterations and the north star, these feedback loops need to be built in from the start. Whenever we add something new that involves planning, build in feedback. We must have the ability to align, inspect and adapt at all levels.


With all this said, it is probably becoming clearer as to why change at scale is so hard. It takes a lot of effort to build momentum, and when we have momentum it takes only slow action or inaction to destroy it.


I hope that the pointers above give you some new thinking into what you could be doing regarding your own change initiatives or transformations.

And until next time, remember: Never Fly Alone!

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