Yesterday, the wind chill factor was 52 degrees below zero but if I wasn’t listening to the news, I would have never known it. I stayed inside all day – where my house was the same temperature as always, pipes functioned properly, and I wore the same layers of clothes. It was a sunny day outside, and inside business was as usual.
While the view from the window may have been pleasant, the conditions in the environment were not. The sun was deceiving as the wind chills were literally life-threatening. The Weather Service estimated that frostbite could occur in five minutes of exposure.
The polar vortex is a metaphor for what often occurs in organizations as leaders try to garner support from employees about the changes that are necessary. They are preaching the equivalent of “it’s cold outside” or “climate conditions are altered” but all the employees see is the sun and normal operations.
As thought leader John Kotter says, you must first create a sense of urgency before any transformation effort will succeed. Leaders must share the thermometers and stories about the implications. They must point out the ice on the inside windows and make note of the canceled mail service. Employees should listen to the news and be inconvenienced by rescheduling or altered conditions.
If you’re leading a change effort, create a way for the employees to feel the chill without getting frostbitten by it. Business as usual in unusual circumstances won’t help you transform.