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Why Most Change Efforts Fail (And What Leaders Can Do About It)

In this fast-paced world, an organization that stands still loses. There are a few things that are integral to maintaining and growing your market advantage and staying relevant: the market environment, innovative ideas, learning from past mistakes and constantly assessing your processes, products and services.


Remember Blockbuster? In the mid-'90s, they were a powerhouse with over 9,000 video rental stores. Then, within the space of 10 years, they went bankrupt. Meanwhile, Netflix was innovating. Rather than continuing with the same old model of having brick-and-mortar stores and making their money on anticipated late fees, they reimagined what it could be to rent a movie. And we all know where Netflix is today.


Change is necessary for businesses to survive. In order to be open, ready and willing to change, you need to instill a learning culture. In a learning culture, your team members feel empowered to share their ideas and feedback with each other and their leaders, without fear of being chided for their input. The team feels free to explore and reflect on new ideas.


In a learning culture, all team members — not just the top performers — are encouraged to learn and try new things and bring these new ideas to the table. They feel free to travel outside their band of comfort to try new ideas. If the idea fails or they make a mistake, they learn from it and are not penalized.


In a learning culture, feedback — both positive and critical — flows back and forth, up and down and sideways. The CEO is open and receptive to any constructive critiques; leaders are in the loop immediately regarding what’s working and what’s not. In a learning culture, team members understand that feedback is a gift and are open to receiving it and learning from it.


But how do you establish a culture of learning in your organization? It starts with your managers and the psychological safety they create. If a manager scoffs at an idea for a better and more effective process suggested by his team member, you can bet that team member will think again before suggesting any other ideas. When a team member tries out a new idea that they learned at a recent conference and it doesn’t work, you can be assured that they will not venture out of their comfort zone again if their manager reprimands them for making a mistake. And if a team member is shamed for asking a question about a project, you can be certain that they won’t ask them anymore, even if it means they have to guess at the answer.


A manager can effectively quell or encourage innovation with his everyday actions. It’s not necessarily all about the big stuff; it is about how each manager shows up for his team daily. It’s the commitment to being intentional about every action and inaction. You can’t just wing it.


Managers have the single greatest impact on a company’s culture accounting for 70% of a team’s engagement. Do you want to create the kind of culture that is agile and encourages a growth mindset, innovation and feedback? Start by empowering your managers with the tools and skills they need to be better leaders of their people.


A good leader:


Listens to their team members with intention and attention, recognizes and mitigates any blind spots they may have and truly hears what their employees have to say.


• Demonstrates curiosity and asks powerful questions — ones that stimulate thought and evoke possibilities.


• Gives constructive feedback and creates an environment where others feel free to do the same. A good leader is transparent and authentic.


• Recognizes those tough conversations must be had, and on a timely basis.

Otherwise, it will impact the team as a whole.


Most people are not inherently gifted with these skills. In fact, Gallup found that only one out of 10 people possesses the talent to manage. The rest of us? We must take the time to learn and practice these skills and have a culture that supports this training.


Did you know that Blockbuster almost bought Netflix, back when they were still a “blockbuster” organization? The CEO scoffed at the idea during a meeting with Netflix in 2000, seeming to not even give serious consideration to it.


What would have happened to Blockbuster if someone within the organization had felt free to challenge him?


Originally published in Forbes on 12/06/21.


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