As I have said in various blog posts, the issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic need to be sorted by innovative solutions and not something from an old playbook. However, this does not mean that in order for business leaders to respond to big problems created by this crisis this necessarily means that a radical strategy to reinvent a struggling business needs to be implemented all at one go. I believe that the best way for leaders to move forward and actually achieve real and sustainable changes, isn’t by making sweeping changes but rather by embracing a gradual, improvisational, quietly persistent approach to change – what has been technically called by some researchers as the “power of small wins”.
Some of you may argue that the issues and challenges that your business is presently facing are so huge, that you feel compelled to respond with radical changes. Let me try and give you a different perspective.
When things get really bad, research has shown that small wins become especially vital. I agree that any one small win on its own may seem unimportant, but a series of small wins begins to reveal a pattern that may attract allies, deter opponents and lower resistance to subsequent proposals. In a nutshell all stakeholders effected by change are likely to accept and metabolise better small wins and changes rather than big radical changes. This is because small wins and changes are compact, tangible and noncontroversial.
Any effort to change a company creates stress, a certain amount of which leads to commitment and action. However, as we all know, too much of anything is a bad thing and hence any business leader leading any change needs to achieve the sweet spot of just the right amount of stress. Small constant changes and wins are likely to lead to a psychological mindset that allows leaders to draw on the imagination, knowledge and skill of their people very effectively.
Change initiatives built on small wins have another virtue: When things go bad, as they often do, failure leads to modest disappointments rather than catastrophic setbacks. The problem for leaders who think too big and aim to move too quickly by implementing big and radical changes all at once, is that their teams also see the possibility of missteps and mistakes and thus understand the high stakes at play if things go wrong. So people often fail to act, rather than act and fail, they are not willing to suffer the consequences of bold moves and big sudden changes.
Do not take this wrongly. This is by no means an argument against passion, commitment or intensity. But there is an important difference between carefully planning and moving in a constant yet staggered way and moving recklessly by sudden radical changes. The same difference between facing up to dire problems and taking unwise risks. Amidst this big crisis, leaders should give themselves permission to focus on the power of small wins.