It’s Later Than You Think (Organizational Change and Mountain Climbing)

While writing my earlier post about Coaching Pull, I started to use a mountain climbing analogy but after a few edits it just didn’t seem to fit. But it did get me thinking…

Having personally climbed a large mountain (or two) and being active in organizational change initiatives, it seems to me there are some parallels we can learn from.

Starting Early. Many organizations realize far too late when change is required. When the realization is finally made, the necessary change is more dramatic and painful than it should have been. The same is true for mountain climbing. This is encapsulated in my favorite mountain climbing quote from Gaston Rebuffat in his book On Snow and Rock in 1959:

Rise early. Fix a time-table to which you must try to keep. One seldom regrets having made an early start, but one always regrets having set off too late; first for reasons of safety-the adage ‘it is later than you think’ is very true in the mountains.

Preparation. Unless you are a world-class adventurer, you will need someone who has local knowledge of the mountain to guide your way. With organizational change, build an internal guiding coalition and partner them with an outside coach who has experience in change management. Make sure you have the right equipment for the journey as well.

Safety. Just like with climbing, human lives are at risk when enacting organizational change. While usually not a life or death situation, it is important to understand that change affects people in different ways – physically, emotionally, mentally. Through proper preparation, be ready to handle any human need. Treat every organizational change as if a life depends on it – because it does.

Acclimatization. Going too high, too fast at altitude will have consequences. The approach when climbing involves heading to a higher elevation for a short period and going back down. Trek back up and settle at the higher elevation before repeating the process. If you have started early with your organizational change, you have the freedom to experiment and pilot with small changes and little fixes leading to an end goal. Try something out, get accustomed to the new change, see what works, adjust if necessary, repeat.

Whatever change is necessary, just start. It’s later than you think.


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