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April 28, 2019

The Power of Incremental Change

By | Change Management, Leadership | No Comments

There’s an old zen koan (story) of a wealthy man who wanted to build a new house that illustrates the importance of incremental change. He wanted a three-story dwelling so he could look out over his land and marvel at the beautiful landscape for many miles around, and more importantly because the higher one lived the higher one’s status.

And so he contracted highly skilled builders to build his beautiful home. Being a busy man himself he then left them to do what it was he was paying them to do and set off on his business travels. Upon his return several weeks later he decided to see how they had progressed.

To his horror he found that they had only started on the ground floor. ‘Why have you not begun work on the top floor?’ he cried. There could be no status living on the ground floor and much loss of face.

The builders, of course, explained to the wealthy man that they must start at the bottom before they could begin to move up to the next floor and ultimately the top floor. But he wasn’t happy because he didn’t want the other floors, he only wanted and desired the third floor. The others were not needed.

Change is incremental and happens one step at a time

Many business leaders and entrepreneurs are like that. They want change to happen all at once. They set out with massive visions and write enormous BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and get miffed if it doesn’t happen fast enough. They want to jump straight to the endgame. Many managers are like that as well. They want the yearly budget done by September, or need the return on their innovation investment before the product is ready. The effect of incremental change is often overlooked

Yes having a vision is vital because otherwise how do you know where you are going. Having goals are vital because they make your vision a reality. Without either business doesn’t grow.

But…

Business growth and change takes time. Meeting budgets takes time. Developing your people takes time. In order to get to the endgame, whatever your vision and whatever your goals are, you need to work meticulously on getting every stage right and complete before you move onto the next. Always remember that business is a ‘Game of inches’ and change is incremental.

Like the top floor, your business will only be solid, secure and lasting if you take the time to build everything correctly on the way up. Desired change can only happen in increments.

Related articles include ‘How the McVikers Cashed in on Change‘ and ‘Change Management requires ownership, not buy-in’.

Find out how Nigel can help your conference delegates make change happen, leadership presentations or about his executive coaching and other keynotes.