A senior H.R. executive for a large manufacturer recently made this comment at a meeting of the company's leadership team:  "Well, the easy work is done.  We've defined the changes we have to make.  We've figured out our market and what our customers want, got deep into the minds of our competitors, come up with a few technology efforts that will get us ahead of both those competitors and new regulations, and defined a manufacturing and sourcing strategy that will give us a solid advantage.  Now we just have to implement it.  That's what's going to be hard."

This is an honest perspective, one that we must recognize as accurate, although her comment probably grossly understates the challenges of figuring out markets, customers, competitors, technology, regulation, manufacturing, and sourcing.  There are certainly many manufacturers who wish they could say that they've successfully done all of that.

There is little doubt that successful manufacturers will be those that succeed at both planning change and leading change.  The underlying forces are unavoidable: growth concentrated in unfamiliar markets, new competitors from emerging markets that offer an almost-as-good product at a great price point, the convergence of information technology with virtually everything else, new regulations that make your head swim, customer expectations that products be surrounded by high-value services, talent shortfalls, and capacity constraints among key suppliers.  The list can go on and on.  Tomorrow will not be like yesterday.  It promises to be even more demanding.

Most firms that have successfully managed a significant change in their business strategy and business model will agree that leading change was every bit as hard and demanding as was planning change. Woodrow Wilson said, and many will agree:  "If you want to make enemies, try to change something."

Last year, I researched the challenges of making changes in a firm's business model.  My original focus was on changes that were considered the most challenging.  One thing that I learned from executives that I interviewed was that this question, while interesting, wasn't the most significant one. Changes to business models that failed to deliver the hoped-for results were characterized by an organizational resistance to change and a failure in the implementation process.  By comparison, the elements of the new strategy, the receptivity of customers, and the responses of competitors were minor obstacles in the greater scheme of things.  The critical challenge associated with leading change involves people, and it has several dimensions.  Three lessons can be learned.

First, the senior managers must "buy into" the change.  This doesn't imply them giving approval to the plan and signing off on the new directions.  Rather, it refers to their willingness to take ownership of the change, to sell it over and over again, and to take on genuine accountability for the success of the initiative.