Are you leading change for the sake of change?

Over the last few weeks, there has been some licence plate drama in my home province of Ontario.

Even as I write this, I can’t believe I’m using “licence plate” and “drama” in the same sentence.

It all started in April of last year when the Ontario government announced that it would be introducing a new driver’s licence plate design and licence renewal process. The new licence plate would feature a blue background with white lettering and numbers and would replace the old plate that, for decades, had a white background with dark blue letters and numbers.

The purpose of these changes is to enhance the quality, design and production of plates in a way that would also save taxpayers millions of dollars each year. According to Bill Walker, the Minister of Government and Consumer Services, the changes were symbolic of an entirely new approach to governing. The new plates featured a more contemporary design, a new logo and new slogans, including “A Place to Grow” for passenger plates, and “Open for Business” for commercial plates.

When I first heard of the proposed changes, I was a little confused. I wasn’t aware that licence plates required a redesign. The old plates did their job and lasted quite a long time. Furthermore, considering all the challenges that the government was trying to address, like health care and education, I was surprised this would be a priority. Given my experience with leaders of large organizations, to me, this felt like a change for the sake of change. It did not take long for my concerns to come to fruition.

The new plates officially launched on February 1 of this year, and almost immediately, a significant defect became apparent: the new plates are not visible at night. Police officials, who were not consulted about the new design, said that officers would be hampered because they could not identify a plate number at certain times of the day and night. Several groups, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada and the Ontario Chiefs of Police, gave the plates a failing grade.

As you can imagine, this was followed by a media and political firestorm. At first, the government tried to diminish the design challenges, but a few days later, it finally acknowledged the plates were indeed defective. They tried to shift the blame on the manufacturer of the plates, 3M Canada. The company has agreed to fix the problem at their expense before issuing new plates to the public.

All in all, it was a complete debacle and that got me thinking about how leaders tackle organizational change.

In many ways, change is synonymous with leadership. In today’s world, I don’t know too many leaders who are tasked to maintain the status quo. Change, or to be more specific, successful change and transformation are vital to success.

However, sometimes leaders lead change for the sake of change. I find this is especially apparent among those leaders who are starting a new role.

I have seen repeatedly how many of them feel compelled to make their mark on their organization by initiating some form of change. Some do so by either trashing everything that came before them or they launch changes that don’t seem to make sense to the people they lead. This, in turn creates considerable churn and frustration within the employees of an organization.

When it comes right down to it, change for the sake of change has nothing to do with making the organization more effective. Instead, it’s a desperate bid by a leader to prove their worth and value. Trashing the previous leaders’ systems and policies and introducing new systems and policies is an easy way to change things up, but it will create mayhem unless you can prove the change makes things empirically better.

Is this something you have experienced?

Have you been on the receiving end of needless change that merely sucks up time, energy and resources without creating any real improvement? Or, are you a leader that has felt the need to demonstrate your value by finding something, anything to change?

Before you begin to embark on any change, stop and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is the change even necessary?
  2. Will it generate incremental gains or meaningful, lasting change?
  3. Are you driving change simply to prove yourself or make your mark?
  4. If the change fails, will I have the courage to accept responsibility or will you deny or deflect the problems?

Leading real change is hard enough. We don’t make it easier on ourselves or the people we lead when we introduce change for the sake of change.

That’s the critical question for this week’s Gut Check for Leaders blog: Are you leading change for the sake of change?

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© Dr. Vince Molinaro (Leadership Contract Inc.)


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