10 Keys to the Art and Science of Survival Change

Author By Jim Lara


To many business professionals, it’s a scary proposition, uncomfortable and full of unknowns. After all, it’s human nature to be resistant to change. And we business aviation professionals are no different.

But when a team becomes disjointed and the organizational culture is conflicted, it’s time for “Survival Change.”

When it comes to change, one of the first things to acknowledge is that you, the change agent, will encounter a lot of RESISTANCE.

We’re not talking about modest, gradual and comfortable change.

What we mean is an abrupt intercession—executed at the right time—to effect transformational change.

And if you, the change agent, act too early or too late, the transformation effort will likely never really begin.

The type of change we’ll examine isn’t one of minor course corrections—be it five degrees right or eight degrees left.

We’re talking about something more sweeping and all-consuming: “Survival Change.”

Transformational Survival Change

In the business world, one of the prerequisites to managing a successful turnaround is the ability to identify companies that are under performing but, with some strategic changes, can become superior performers.

Keep in mind, however, that not all under performing firms can be transformed.

And the key word here is transformation.

In such a situation, talk at the water cooler might sound something like this:

“If we don’t do something soon, we won’t exist. We’re failing and the steps we’ve taken just aren’t helping. The way we’ve always operated just doesn’t seem to be working anymore. There’s a lot of in-fighting and people just aren’t happy. The mood is sour and the outlook for our future is unclear, at best. This just doesn’t feel good or right.”

Can these sentiments also permeate aviation organizations? Absolutely.

Do they occur frequently? Yes, every single day.

And are the warning signs often ignored? Without a doubt, and often at the peril of that organization’s future. How many aviation organizations have you seen or heard of that have “bitten the dust”?

Let this be a warning: If you don’t actually hear comments like the ones above uttered aloud, I can guarantee you that members of the organization are thinking along these lines. And people are getting scared. And when they are frightened, they cannot think!


Orchestrating Change, One “Key” at a Time

What follows is the first in a series on Survival Change where I’ll discuss how transformational change can be successfully orchestrated in today’s aviation organizations. And while you’ll be reading about aviation-specific examples, these principles have broad application in many other industries and disciplines.

It’s important to keep in mind that, in order to successfully effect sustainable organizational change, these Keys must be applied in unison, as a complete set.

A common error—one that’s usually fatal to the process—is to skip a step or “declare victory” far too early.

Perseverance, persistence and patience—the three “Ps”—are each needed in huge quantities.

That’s because it’s always harder and takes longer than you imagine when you begin any “change initiative.”

To effectively orchestrate Survival Change, one needs to understand the participants (the players) as well as each of the action steps.

The first essential ingredient is Leadership. The organization in peril must have an effective leader in order to be transformed. That person can be what’s known as a “legacy leader”(one who can be and actually desires to be “reborn”) or a “new leader” who’s coming in with transformation experience.

An organization shouldn’t proceed in the absence of true leadership. Without leadership, it will be wasting time and resources.

Next, there must be a robust understanding of what the entire “Survival Change” effort will entail from a high-level perspective.


There are 10 very distinct “Survival Change Keys”:

1. “Hello!”
- Get everyone’s undivided attention and create compelling, gripping“urgency.”

2.  “Alliances”
- Solidify top-level organizational power and support for the Survival Change initiative.

3. “Touchstones”
- Develop and define the organization’s vision, mission and values. These will be the organization’s cultural touchstones going forward.

4. “Winning”
- Communicate “how we are going to triumph” by “planting the flag on the hill.” - Share a “bigger than life” message.

5. “Empowerment
- Empower people to “own their future.”- Develop a “bias for action.”

6.  “Inclusion”
- Broaden the “Survival Change” Leadership Team.
- Amplify the clarion message.
- Intensify focus on the “success vision.”

7. “Consistency”
- Build a “Winning Momentum.”
- Publicly celebrate daily/weekly “wins.”
- Chart visual progress against the plan.

8.  “Laser Focus”
- Celebrate big wins while “keeping the pedal to the metal.”

9. “Aim Higher”
Set the performance bar, achieve, reset the bar, achieve, repeat.

10. “Got It”
Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Unlocking the Keys

As I mentioned above, I will explore each “Keys” at the summary level in a series of follow-on blogs.

Why review each step? It’s critical that you grasp the strategic concepts rather than try to define each of the plausible tactical steps.

To move an organization in the desired new direction, you must be able to disrupt the status quo without creating chaos.

It’s a tall order, but when you think it through—and possibly get help from someone who has “been there and done that”—the undertaking won’t be quite as daunting.

Someone who has been there and done that is Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter. He is regarded as one of the leading voices in organizational change. Professor Kotter is a highly respected thought leader and subject matter expert on change management.

If the topic of driving and leading organizational change initiatives is new to you as a formal discipline,I highly recommend Professor Kotter’s books, many of which are published by the Harvard Business Review.

In the meantime, begin to think about your organization and these 10 Keys to Survival Change. And stayed tuned to our future blog posts.

In particular, my next post will discuss in greater detail the Key to Survival Change No. 1: “Hello! Getting attention and creating urgency.”


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