Over 20 years ago, John Kotter introduced the ‘burning platform’ phrase to the mass market in his book, Leading Change, as an illustration of the need to create a sense of urgency within an organisation around the change the leadership was wanting to make – basically, we need to do this change or we will die. Kotter doesn’t just talk about burning platforms, he describes an 8 step plan, but the need for a burning platform is what has stuck.
In meetings about a starting new project or planning the implementation of a new idea, it is not uncommon to hear someone there is a need to create a burning platform for people so they change and join the new way of doing things.
While we often talk about ‘burning platforms’ we rarely talk people’s fear of fire and jumping. When we are engaged in talking about change and leading change, it quickly becomes clinical; we often fail to consider how the change will impact people emotionally – how they will feel.
A true burning platform communicates the old is gone, burned up, and to survive you must jump to a new place, but more subtly a burning platform can communicate the old way was wrong, bad, inadequate and the people who’s job it had been to maintain that platform are wrong, bad, inadequate.
Shame barges through that door and descends on people. To lead change well, we need to acknowledge this and talk about it. I discuss this more on a recent podcast called “Shame and Change“.