Most change initiatives start with a grandiose vision of what the organization is going to be like following the change effort: “We will be the best, biggest, most profitable, most admired, most customer‐centric, greatest place to work on the planet, for all eternity. . . .”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having such an aspirational view. In fact, it’s essential. But it’s the wrong place to begin. Often, in our zeal to identify the new, better, grander view of who we will be, we forget to spend time understanding who we are now, where we have come from, and what the positive attributes of the organization are that made us successful in the first place.

Even the most screwed up organizations were not always screwed up, and there is usually something worth preserving and nurturing. In fact, that “something” is often what the organization somehow lost along the way and is trying to get back to doing or being. So make sure you figure out what is worth preserving before you allow everyone to skip right past it.

I learned how to think about change with a series of six simple questions I could use to capture on one page what I most needed to know:

1. From what to what?

Failure to think about where you are coming from before you lock in on where you are going to is the most common mistake I see leaders (including HR) make when initiating change. What are you now; what will you be following the change effort?

2. For what reasons?

Why are you initiating a change process—to improve operating margins, grow revenue, become more globally competitive, be more customer‐centric, reduce bureaucracy, be more collaborative, drive innovation, become a better place to work . . . what?

3. What is the risk of unintended consequences?

Do you know how changing one aspect of the organization will affect other organizational dynamics? Like the human body, organizations can recover from well‐conceived and performed surgery, but they can suffer and even die if the surgery is poorly planned and executed.

4. What role do key leaders play?

Who are the “influencers” in your organization that drive what other people think? Find them, involve them, listen to them, and let them know what you want them to do.

5. What are the likely resistance points, and how do we overcome them?

Resistance points can be people, organizations, sacred cows, or other issues that you can or should assume will be difficult to persuade or overcome. As with your “Influencers,” find the resistance points, involve them, listen to them, and let them know what you need them to do—but never let them believe lack of cooperation will deter you from driving change.

6. How do we know whether we are going too far, or too fast?

This is often the toughest question to answer, because it usually takes longer than we would like to gather enough evidence to act on or respond to. Some early warning signs are that people don’t understand what is being asked of them, they have difficulty executing on expected changes, and more energy is being devoted to undermining planned changes than to understanding those changes. Moving too slowly can also negatively affect your change strategy. My advice is to err on the side of speed because most change efforts tend to move too slowly. I’ve found that if people hate the idea of change, they will complain whether it moves slowly or quickly. So put your energy into doing it right by addressing the above questions first, and then adjust the speed and intensity as you go.

Learn More

If you found this information valuable, check out my book, THREE: The Human Resources Emerging Executive, which you can preview at

Be sure also to check out the FREE eBook Black Holes and White Spaces: Reimagining the Future of Work and HR with the CHREATE Project, published through the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and available for download on Amazon. It contains 26 essays from more than 70 chief HR officers and CHREATE Project volunteers and describes tools and frameworks for leaders inside and outside the HR profession.