Building the Bridge as You Walk On It – A Guide for Leading Change

How often do you find yourself leading an initiative or a change and having anxiety about the next step to take in this and a true sense of what the end result will look like?

Robert Quinn, in his book “Building the Bridge as You Walk on It”, describes how many organizations are undertaking change and initiatives with vague future states and end points.

This can be extremely daunting and frustrating for individuals familiar with leading predictable and structured changes and initiatives. Consider however the prospects of what this approach can offer:

  • Generative versus structured
  • Possibility-focused versus defined
  • Adaptive versus directive
  • Open versus constrained
  • Limitless versus limited

To ensure success, this requires:

  • Powerful and adaptive leadership
  • Clear and a simple vision
  • Set of simple and clear values or guiding principles
  • Interim check points to allow for adaptive action
  • Visible, active sponsorship

Building the Bridge – In Action:

Service Delivery Model Change:

One initiative I consulted in involved a change to a Health Authority Home Health’s Care Delivery Model (servicing a population of over 450,000, budget of over $250,000,000). As the Executive Director stated more than once “the pants don’t fit anymore…we need a whole new wardrobe”.  This philosophy and approach allowed for dialogue around what was possible.  This does not preclude having some criteria and boundaries.  It does however bring a lens that is not ‘project’ or ‘project management’ oriented and rather allows for generative dialogue to produce a high quality solution.

Culture Transformation:

Another example involves Culture Transformation with two different clients.  In both cases, the approach is one that has a strongly defined vision and a set of espoused values to guide staff toward their possible future.  The methodology and leadership style are generative, open, adaptive and highly engaging.  Neither of these examples will see results overnight – this type of work is not for the faint of heart and must be flexible to respond to the organizational and human system feedback.  Navigating on these bridges is challenging at times, without knowing if the direction one is headed will bring positive results. It requires determination, persistence and focus on the vision (light at the end of the bridge).  These are critical for inspiring and instilling confidence in those impacted by this change.

Are you thinking about stepping into an initiative or change that you now can see will require you to build your bridge as you walk on it?

If so, check out Robert Quinn’s book :

And, for your own part as a leader of change, consider his other book:  Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within:






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