Making Change Stick: Three ways a leader builds momentum

Change is necessary and it is hard to get going, but once the momentum kicks in there is little stopping the energy for change. The key for any leader is to be able to keep going in the early stages until leading change becomes energising. You will know because:

  • The desired culture is evident and tangible
  • The majority of people are championing change and excited about the direction
  • The leader can devote significant time to communicating vision
  • Innovation becomes part of the DNA at every level

Momentum is the measure of a motion of a moving body, the power residing in a moving object. The equation for momentum is p=mv – momentum is mass multiplied by velocity*.

If a 10,000kg truck and 80kg cyclist are both moving at two metres per second, the truck has the greater momentum. Even though they are travelling at the same speed, the truck is more difficult to stop or turn*. When an object has momentum it is almost like it wants to keep moving.

In Good to Great, Jim Collins describes how momentum works as a force for change by using the example of a flywheel, which is a heavy rotating metal disc mounted horizontally on an axis, used to provide continuous energy where the energy source is not continuous*.

Getting the flywheel moving is hard work. At the start it requires constant pushing, each revolution takes a considerable time and needs a continuous effort. At some point along the way there is breakthrough, the flywheel spins faster and faster, propelled by its own weight. Momentum is building and speed is increasing. There is no need to keep pushing hard.

Facilitating and leading change, in culture or direction takes energy to keep pushing through the resistance. Things like:

  • Existing culture
  • Fear of the new
  • Comfort in long-held routine
  • Self-interest

To get to the point where momentum takes off the leader must be:

  1. Resolute. Confidence in the direction and that the reasons for change are the right way to go. Despite what people may say, the future is better
  2. Strong. To get the change happening the early stages require hard work and the endurance to keep going. Good physical and mental health maintains stamina
  3. Courageous. The majority don’t want change if asked and it’s tempting to succumb to majority rule.

In physics, momentum is a vector*, it has a size and it has direction. Vector comes from the Latin word meaning ‘carrier’. Momentum will carry change and carry the vision just as long as we are able to do the hard yards to get it started.

* Acknowledging the various Physics 101 resources used to help me understand the concept of momentum

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