Of Bonfires and Campfires

The executive team reached agreement on the framework and vision for the change process about to begin at their company. The future of the company is at risk due to the changing business environment and new competition. They know it is vital to communicate this new vision to the rest of the organization.  As such they talk about how to communicate the need, direction, and goals for the upcoming change process.

“We need a mandatory All-Hands meeting with everyone attending.” says one executive.

“I can write-up a memo to send out to the company. That is much easier.” replies another in the room.

“Yet a third voice says, “We need to get some successful results first and then we can start to tell others in the company. What do we tell them now with nothing to show?”

The room falls silent. The men and women around this conference table know they need change in their organization, but are not sure how to start. Finally the President stands and begins to circle the table deep in thought and memory.

“I remember back in college before the big football game each year. We built a bonfire to bring everyone together. There is power in the process to prepare and light such a beast. To watch it grow to a point where it is almost out of control and seems to have a life to itself. There is strong symbolism in the flames. The light and the heat connects all who circle the flames. There is a sense of renewal as we let go of our past and prepare ourselves for the fight ahead, in the football game or for us today as we prepare to fight for our company.

We need to start a bonfire here today and tend to it for as long as necessary. The light of these flames and indeed the heat too, must reach everyone in our organization. We are in this for the long-haul. Let’s get working.”

As such it began. A change process lead by a committed senior leadership team. The bonfire metaphor served as a touchstone for all involved. There was one rule above all … Tend to the fire. If it dies down let’s find a way to stoke it back to full heat and light. The change took hold and the organization thrived once more.

I admit – a corporate fairy-tale of sorts. Change management programs often do not have such happy endings. I can write countless posts on all the facets of this topic. For now I run with this metaphor of the Bonfire as a powerful tool to set the mindset needed for change. For change in organizations is now not just a project-based entity, but a required core-competency for organizations.

bonfire2The metaphor of fire extends to the far reaches of an organization. While my corporate fairy-tale above has full commitment from the senior leaders, often change starts from deep within the organization. Someone starts their own campfire to generate the needed light and heat. This fire attracts others. People light torches from one campfire to start another fire some distance away. A line of sight begins between campfires.   Change is underway and the fire can not be doused.

In your leadership role be the one who says, let’s build a fire.  The light and heat will serve you well on your change journey.

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