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Six Change Management Tips from Vietnam

He who hesitates, might get clobbered.

Whether in business, sports or art, we know that conviction and confidence are key to success. There are few opportunities for those who are unsure or unclear about the direction they would like to take their work.

This important perspective was illuminated to me again as I traveled recently through Vietnam – a magnificent country of resilient and generous people. There is, however, one problem – the traffic.

It is a challenging task, to say the least, trying to cross a busy street in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam. Without the aid of traffic lights, motorbikes (with one, two or three passengers aboard, along with parcels or babies), buses, cars and bicycles criss-cross and zig-zag through the intersections and main streets. During my first 24 hours in HCMC. I was given good navigation advice:

  • Be alert
  • Be confident
  • Adopt a slow and steady pace
  • Keep moving
  • Don’t back up
  • Join with others

Somehow, it works. Miraculously, walking across the street slowly with purpose signals oncoming drivers to anticipate your position and adjust their drive path accordingly. As I observed and experienced this phenomenon, I thought how this approach is also what works as we move through change at work.

When our organization is going through major change (acquisitions, mergers, culture shift, structure reorganization, etc.) we naturally experience hesitancy, insecurity and frustration. Is this the right direction? Will this work and make things better?

As leaders, we need to coach and guide people through change, making the transition a successful one. Once the new direction has been set, what if we followed the pedestrian advice for successfully moving through traffic in Vietnam?

  1. Be alert – Make sure you do your homework and understand the changes afoot and why they are happening. Be aware of how the changes are impacting you and others.
  2. Be confident – Know where your organization will be on the other side of the change. A clear sense of the vision ahead will build confidence and inspire others.
  3. Adopt a slow and steady pace – While speed and agility are important, rushing through change can present its own problems. Be thoughtful, deliberate and measured as you navigate new territory.
  4. Keep moving – don’t get mired down in the obstacles and stuck in the “What ifs”. Instead say, “Why not?” There is a rhythm to change and keeping things in motion will build positive momentum. Create an environment where everyone is pulling together for the same end goal. Resist the urge to panic and come to a grinding halt, as you might get clobbered.
  5. Don’t back up – Second-guessing and retreating to the familiar is deadly to effectively managing change. “Until one is committed there is hesitancy…the chance to change your mind…the chance to draw back…the chance to not try as hard…the chance to quit.”
  6. Join with others – Not only is there safety in numbers (three people navigating through traffic is easier to spot than one), there is also a comfort that comes from locking arms with colleagues to move through change. You can compare notes, share experiences and develop strategies to move forward.

Just like the chaotic traffic in HCMC, change is messy and confusing, but if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will arrive at the other side. 

(Image by Der tomtomtom and licensed under CC BY-SA)