Charge of the Light Brigade Strategy
“When the wind of change blows, some people build walls and others build windmills.” —Chinese Proverb
Change initiatives fail far more than they succeed; surveys put failure at somewhere between 45 and 75 percent. Those failure rates work in baseball, but if you’re running a business you’ve got to do better.
I call misguided change leadership the “Charge of the Light Brigade Strategy.” The Charge of the Light Brigade was an assault by British light cavalry against Russian forces during the Crimean War, in the 1854 Battle of Balaclava. The commander of the British forces, Lord Raglan, had intended to send the Light Brigade to pursue a retreating Russian artillery battery. Owing to miscommunication in the chain of command, the Light Brigade was sent on a frontal assault against a different artillery battery, one with massive amounts of fire power. Charging in to direct fire, the decimated brigade was forced to retreat almost immediately. The assault ended with horrific British casualties and no military gain. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, immortalized the ill-advised charge in the poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”
The famous military blunder has been studied by military historians and students as an example of what can go wrong when accurate military intelligence is lacking and orders are unclear. This is the primary reason for the failure of business initiatives, as well: lack of information and poor communication from the top down.
Effectively managing change must be in the DNA of the business; otherwise you’ll soon be entombed in the casket of a misbegotten past, covered in the weeds of a withered present. Change management done wrong will cause people to lose faith in management’s ability to run the organization. I’ve seen cultural catastrophes emanate like a tsunami from major change initiatives gone awry.
Whether it’s economic challenges, competitive pressures, talent or skill shortages, quality issues, the need to address growth or expansion, innovation initiatives, product or service development, or cultural changes, as the leader, you are the overseer of change management. Managing the change cannot be an afterthought—and managing the change initiative is not the same thing as managing the change process. The change initiative is what you want to do; the change process is how you get people to do it. Once you realize a change initiative is not a onetime event but a multistage process, you’ll exponentially increase the odds of success:
- By getting buy-in.
- By engaging people in the process.
- By creating a “change newspaper” for all to read.
- By providing regular feedback.
- By celebrating success.
- By monitoring “backsliding” and addressing it immediately.
Underpinning the process is communication; not mundane communication but focused, relentless communication with everyone in the organization, from the top down. If leadership is not 1,000 percent (You may have noticed I’m a baseball fan) committed, and articulating a message that inspires unequivocal buy-in from everyone, you’ll find “Double, double toil and trouble,” and you’ll need “Eye of newt, and toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog” (I’m a fan of the Bard too) to make it work.
Ken Tasch is the inventor of the LAUNCH® Selling and Business Capture System: a simple and easy way to significantly increase the odds of winning new business.
I retired from over 40 years of starting my own businesses and managing businesses for corporations. My goal now is to help others succeed and grow to be everything they want to be; to give back and share my life experience.