Creating Concrete Change

When I was growing up, I would work each summer for my dad’s small construction company. Though at the time, it seemed my primary job was holding the dumb-end of the tape measure, I realize that I learned how to do lots of construction-y things: electrical wiring, roofing, basic carpentry, and pouring and finishing concrete.

I haven’t looked back much at my days of building basements and driveways, but as I left an unproductive meeting where someone apologized for their teams’ resistance to new ideas, I realized just how much concrete and organizational change have in common.

For those whose only experience with concrete is walking on it, making, pouring and finishing concrete goes something like this:

  1. Prepare the area for the concrete, defining the boundaries so it doesn’t go everywhere.
  2. Combine the materials (cement, rock, water) in the appropriate percentages.
  3. Mix the materials thoroughly.
  4. Pour the concrete carefully, making sure it is distributed evenly.
  5. “Finish” the poured mixture, ultimately smoothing the surface, as it begins to set.
  6. Check back regularly, making sure there are no unexpected cracks or breaks.

Similarly, creating meaningful change inside an organization requires all of the same steps:

  1. Prepare your organization for change, while defining the boundaries of what is “in play” and what’s off limits.
  2. Get the right tools together before the change begins. Instead of cement, rock and water, ingredients for successful change include the “why,” the “how” and the “when.”
  3. Introduce change carefully, making sure a mix of changemakers, stakeholders, leaders and the rank and file are all included.
  4. Don’t ignore the parts of the organization on the edges. Everyone affected must understand the change.
  5. The most attention is required as the understanding of the changes begins to take.
  6. Finally, don’t stop managing the change once it is in place. Dealing with post-deployment resistance is often more crucial than preparing people for the change in the first place.

And like concrete, it is prohibitively expensive to rework the changes once they are “set.” You are far better to pay attention to all of the prior steps and not wait until the end to decide the result isn’t what you hoped for.