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Successful Change Initiatives: As Simple as 1-2-3

Successful Change Initiatives: As Simple as 1-2-3

Simple, successful and sustainable change initiatives. That’s the promise of the power of three: a writing principle that states “things in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying and more effective than any other number of things” (per Wikipedia). The principle is based on the fact that readers are more likely to remember the information because of the rhythm and pattern. Take for instance, “snap, crackle, pop” – do you see three little characters with a bowl of cereal? Or how about “do-re-mi” – are you humming the song from the Sound of Music or envisioning the Austrian Alps?

In my work helping local governments implement lean methodology, I found that the power of three translates perfectly into an actionable and sustainable change management strategy. To streamline a permitting process, we focus on better application forms, clear team member roles and responsibilities, and maximizing available technology. When leaders want to make a cultural change in their organization, we guide them to focus on building a leader-as-coach environment, communicating their vision, and devoting time to their own personal growth (looking inward).

Therefore, here is my simple power of three formula for your next change initiative. Start with a basic lean principle: have a clear goal that aligns with the mission, vision, and values of your organization. Then, using the power of three, achieve your goal by addressing expected resistance with visible data, persistent nudging, and appropriate power.

1) Visible data demonstrates the need for change and shows the first sign of improvement as implementation begins. People don’t embrace change because they are “told” to; the most dedicated followers are gained from “seeing” the facts. Besides gaining follower support, all good change initiatives should be based on measurement and have the capability to track progress. Collecting data and making it visible answers both change methodology and followership needs.

2) Persistent nudging should be done regularly by the change leaders and directed toward the appropriate audiences. Anyone who drives successful change possesses the skill to influence others and sustainable change comes from persistent nudging. It is not high pressure sales nor is it accomplished in one conversation. Successful change comes from ongoing “nudging” to the future state which permits the resisters time to adjust to the new world conditions. A change leader’s role is to keep the goal and implementation plan front and center of the organization assuring that other priorities don’t overshadow and sideline the prioritized goal (aka change initiative).

3) Appropriate power is calling on positional authority sparingly at key points of the implementation plan. Lean empowers subject-matter-experts. In other words, the people doing the work know how to improve the work. However, there are times when hierarchical leadership is required to push the change initiative past barriers. Change agents should identify those crucial points, call on positional power for help and not feel they have failed when that particular element is needed.  

With all the responsibilities of change leadership, it helps to create plans that are a simple 1 – 2 – 3. Maybe this is where the quote “less is more” originated. Better to have a simple plan that you can keep on track than a complex plan that overwhelms the time and mind-share you have available in your busy life. 

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

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About Debra Hentz

Debra Hentz writes for MRSC as a Government Performance Advisor.

She is the Lean Specialist at the Local Government Performance Center and an Adjunct Instructor at WSU Vancouver for Leadership Skills in the Public Sector.

The views expressed in Advisor columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.