I have often joked that when other children were hearing stories of fairy tales, I was learning about the battle strategies of Sun Tzu. While it does present an amusing visual, it is not that far from the truth.
Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” is well over 2,000 years old and is still as relevant now as when it was first written. The key to its success is that the author wrote it with enough specifics to be followed, but general enough to be applied in a variety of situations.
Whether we are trying to gain the support of an idea, affect an organizational transformation, or just move a team forward to achieve an objective, Sun Tzu’s ideas remain relevant.
It is up to each of us to determine HOW to best interpret and implement Sun Tzu’s concepts given our situation. Tactics for one situation will need to be different in another. That is one of Tzu’s lessons: when conditions change, you need to start over and reevaluate.
Even if the people are the same, the organization may not be.
If the people and organization are the same, the process may not be.
At the start of any potential change – receiving a new assignment or objective, launching a new product or project – be mindful of five steps to help ensure your path to victory. They can also be thought of as the Art of Change.
1. Know when to fight and when not to fight
Change is the only constant. If we resist, we can quickly find ourselves labeled as someone who is not a team player. At the same time, not all change should be allowed to sweep us along.
Going into change with open eyes and awareness is the only way to confront the challenges or embrace the opportunities that come with it.
2. Obtain whole hearted support of the troops
Each member of a team has to follow their own journey through change. Their leader must reconfirm support to move forward successfully. That support cannot be taken for granted, as people are fundamental to any success.
The team may need reassurance or more information to solidify their footing as this change moves forward. Unless their footing is firm, their leader’s cannot be.
3. Be well prepared to seize favorable opportunities
Has the change created a new condition that can benefit the team or organization? Are skilled resources going to be available? Is a new technology available now that wasn’t before? Jump in.
Has a previously favorable condition gone away? Have resources been diverted to another effort? Has support diminished because a key stakeholder was realigned to a new organization? Reconsider.
4. Be free from interference
Ideally, we all work for someone that lets us be the type of independent leaders we desire. Even if we have such freedom, when our condition changes, our manager’s position may as well. We cannot count on remaining autonomous.
If our position is not as flexible as we desire, maybe the change creates a condition where we can be more independent. Take advantage.
5. Take the enemy unprepared
There is no certainty, only opportunity. Be the first to jump on new ideas and opportunities as they arise. While everyone else is figuring out what a change means, drive forward and demonstrate capability, flexibility, and ability to move forward in absence of complete information.
In this context, the enemy may not be a person, but could be each of us…standing in the way of our success. Being prepared for change, ready to embrace it and all the opportunity it represents, allows us to move forward with purpose instead of uncertainty.
Have you read Sun Tsu’s Art of War? What other keys to finding a successful path through change would you recommend? Please share your thoughts in the comments and keep the conversation going.