Four Ways to Create Momentum for Your Organizational Change

Written By Anna Sullins


Cultivating Change

Change is not an easy thing to manage, and yet, if it is ignored, odds are our businesses will fail. How do you cultivate change? How does your business minimize the nay sayers and build a group of enthusiastic employees who rally around change? Here’s an example of how Biltmore focused on making change work by embracing new ideas and letting others go.

A decade ago, the nation was in the throes of the great recession. Biltmore was taking a hard look at our attempt to introduce Biltmore Wines nationwide, and we were not authorizing capital expenditures. Regulations to place wine in individual states were complex and expensive.

Even after the recession ended, national distribution was struggling, and to help diversify the business, focus shifted to ecommerce, on property sales, and the Vanderbilt Wine Club. Fast forward to today: What began as a few hundred loyal Biltmore wine aficionados is now nearly 10,000 members, making the Vanderbilt Wine Club one of the largest wine clubs in the nation.

Why did the Vanderbilt Wine Club succeed? Simply put, it was vision. The leadership of the Winery realized that direct to consumer sales was the better way to drive profits and increase brand awareness. The leadership backed up their aspirational idea with facts and logic, then tied these facts to financial projections.

They also knew a wine club had an inspirational appeal. George Vanderbilt kept an extensive wine cellar, and William Cecil, Vanderbilt’s grandson, believed that “every French Chateau should have a winery”. Soon great wines were being produced and winning national awards. Excellent wine was a part of the Biltmore story, and that story had yet to be told.

How do you cultivate change? There are many ways, but the leaders at the Vanderbilt Wine Club followed several tried and true approaches to create success. Using the Wine Club as an example, let’s dissect four ways you can cultivate change in your business.

Establish a sense of urgency

What are your pain points? How do you drive action toward change? When leading a change, remember that it’s not always what’s important to you; sometimes creating a sense of urgency for the change can inspire action.

In the example of the Vanderbilt Wine Club, our leadership successfully avoided the sunk cost fallacy and acknowledged that national distribution was not the company’s best path forward. Establishing a wine club could be a new source of revenue and help develop more loyal Biltmore customers.

Develop the vision

John Kotter, author of Leading Change, notes:

“If you cannot describe your vision to someone in five minutes and get their interest, you have more work to do in this phase of a transformation process.”

To create change, you need a clear, concise roadmap: One that presents both the compelling reasons for change and the risks of not changing. A vision answers “why change?”, and it must be shared.

Vanderbilt Wine Club creators drew an emotional picture backed by strong financial projections. Just as George Vanderbilt welcomed guests and shared his wine cellar, the wine club could now do that with its guests near and far away.

Their vision captured these elements. It was:

How could you use these elements in visions you share when cultivating change?

Create a guiding coalition

Creating followers is essential to cultivating change, so it’s important to nurture those first few people willing to follow. Once you have those on your side, reach out to influencers, especially those who might be nay sayers. You will find these people across the organization, in many management levels and across functions. Who will be your first followers?

Communicate the vision

In their book Switch, Dan and Chip Heath vividly describes what makes a good vision—we highly recommend reading it. Biltmore frequently use stories to communicate a vision. Wrapping your change into a story makes it fun and captivating.

What’s at risk for you as a leader? Showing personal vulnerability helps build trust, showing emotions helps others express their feelings, and that’s as critical as knowledge.

Cultivating change is one of many topics we offer to businesses interested in learning about timely and important business ideas. Learn more about how our workshops can help elevate your leadership direction.