It was decades ago, but I remember it like yesterday. I had mastered driving an automatic transmission. It was time to learn how to drive a manual transmission – or as I call it, the stick shift. Down we went to the mall where there was plenty of parking lot to practice. It was flat, there were no obstacles and conducive to starting and stopping without pressure. Things were going well, so it was time to drive home.
Turning into traffic, the lurching began. Letting off the clutch and pressing on the gas the car lurched forward throwing us toward the dash, then back against the seats, then toward the dash, then back again. I finally got the car rolling in a smooth manner. And there it was. The hill. With the stop light at the top. And it was red. Gulp. The pit formed in my stomach. How was I going to get the car up the hill without rolling back into the car behind me? The car rolled back, then stalled. I started it up again, it rolled back, horns blaring, and the dreaded stall. It was clear I wasn’t going to get up the hill, so we changed seats. Defeated for the day, I eventually learned how to drive a stick shift successfully, but there were many more adventures of lurching, rolling back and stalling before I finally got there.
Driving change initiatives in business can be a lot like driving a stick shift if you haven’t done it before. Things can lurch around, throwing people back and forth, stalling and sometimes rolling backward. It’s easy to stop and give up. The trick is learning how to let go of the old ways while accelerating in a coordinated fashion so it is a smooth transmission without lurching around. With practice, you’ll find the right rhythm and eventually the lurching will be gone. And the added bonus – once you figure it out, you can get out of the blocks faster than an automatic transition, giving you the ability to outpace your competition. Have you learned to drive change in your organization like a manual transmission?