Management Articles


Mastering Change Through Continuous Growth, Learning, and Improvement

By: Jim Clemmer

Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His other bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, and his most recent book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. His web site is

"When you're through changing, you're through."
Bruce Barton, American advertising executive, author, and politician
To master or thrive on change, we need to embrace perpetual growth and development, continuous learning, and constant improvement. That's the stuff true change leadership is made of. The surface issue is our rate and type of change. The deeper issue is whether we are learning and improving so that change is another step forward in our progress to a brighter future. Are we steadily striving to build a better self, team, organization, and world? I've seen very few effective, and especially lasting, "change programs." But I have seen, and personally experienced, the power and payoffs of constant and habitual personal, team, and organization learning and improvement.

Developing and improving our organizations, teams, or selves to ride the waves of change means:
  • Balancing "hard" analytical management systems and techniques, quick changing technical and technological tools, with "soft" human leadership issues.

  • Strengthening our self-leadership and self-determination as a base for leading others.

  • Establishing a clear focus and "big picture" context. This encompasses the Three Ps Picture of our preferred future (vision), Principles (values or beliefs), and Purpose (mission, niche, or why we exist).

  • Identifying who we've chosen to serve, understanding what they want, and analysing how we're doing at meeting their needs.

  • Digging below our current customers' needs and expectations to latent and unmet needs that lead to new markets, customers, products and services, or extensions.

  • Nurturing experiments, pilots, and "clumsy tries" as we muddle (and learn) our way to new products, services, markets, methods, and such.

  • Setting clear priorities and strategic goals to provide tighter discipline in our use of limited time and organizational resources.

  • Developing improvement plans that encompass our key production, delivery, and support processes, operational and improvement teams, skill development, measurement and feedback, structure and system alignment, education and communication strategies, as well as reward and recognition programs and practices.

  • Developing change champions and supporting local improvement initiatives.
    Regularly reviewing, assessing, celebrating, and refocusing our improvement progress.
A Few Change Pathways and Pitfalls
"Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not something to be waited for, but rather something to be achieved."
William Jennings Bryan, American political leader and orator
  • Don't let a consultant loose with a "change management program" or unleash improvement teams in a vacuum. (Beware of the this type of consultant "It's worse than I thought. Your organization's change program is going to put me in a higher tax bracket"). Make sure all changes are driven by very clear business goals (quality, service, innovation, etc), are coming from your organization's Focus and Context (picture of the future, principles, and purpose), and are managed by line management and performance teams.

  • Build a strong case for change. Without it, change efforts look like "management by whim."

  • You may need to use a painful crisis (or even project a small one into a potential future catastrophe) to smash existing mindsets and complacency. But once that's done, keep everyone focused on the gain rather than the pain of change and improvement.

  • Involve everyone in understanding (why we should change), diagnosing (what's not working well now), visioning (what would our ideal future look like), and planning (what improvement route are we following) for the changes needed.

  • Keep communication channels wide open and information flowing on progress, what's being learned, changes to the improvement effort. And make sure feedback and measurement loops are strong.
When change represents learning, growth, and improvement it generates energy and is often eagerly embraced. When change is just change or appears to make things worse and especially if it's done to us it's something to be avoided. At worst, some people are neutral or somewhat resistant to change that they believe will eventually be for the better. At best, most people (and especially high performers) welcome and embrace that kind of beneficial change. The bigger barrier becomes the discipline and follow through to improve ourselves and enjoy the benefits of the change. But what most of us clearly hate and strongly resist is being changed.

© Copyright 2001 The CLEMMER Group

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