We've all known leaders who complete a project on time or heroically make a revenue number, but leave chaos in their wake. This week in Washington seems to be one of those times. Washington is in chaos. American's approval rating of Congress is now at 17%, down from 42% 10 years ago. This is not "Washington politics as usual," this is dysfunction on an entirely new scale.
Despite last week's Rasmussen poll findings that 45% of Americans were "strongly" opposed to the health care bill, it passed on Sunday. It's difficult to blame the bill itself; at 2,700 pages no one really knows what's in it. Today's turmoil is a direct result of ineffective change leadership.
Leading change may be the hallmark of leadership. In corporations and in government, effective leaders are able to pull together people with diverse views to build innovative policies and processes. Effective change leadership is a highly complex task that requires many years of large-scale change experience. President Obama embarked on one of the most challenging change leadership initiatives imaginable with no previous large-scale change experience. Some have said that inexperience doesn't matter if the president surrounds himself with experienced people. They were wrong. Effective change begins with an approved project plan. To claim success, this change has a very long way to go.
For years, John Kotter has been Harvard Business School's change management expert. Kotter is famous for identifying eight common change management errors. The three that deal with crafting change plans are described here.
Change Error No. 1: Not Establishing a Great Sense of Urgency
From the time the new administration took office, Americans have been overwhelmingly concerned about the economy and its impact on their financial situation. A Franklin & Marshall poll in February found that 64% consider the economy and personal finances as America's most important problem while only 11% felt that way about health care.
More importantly, American's felt that health care would negatively impact their most pressing concern. In a March 9 Rasmussen poll, 57% said the health care bill would hurt the economy, American's No. 1 priority, while only 25% said it would help. Not only did the administration fail to create a sense of urgency, most Americans became actively opposed to a change they worried would have significant personal impact but that they didn't understand.
Change Error No. 2: Not Having a Clear Vision