Strategy and change: when the answer is not the ANSWER


Change projects always begin in deep discomfort for someone. And that’s really good. You need that to get things going at all. The hardest part is having the patience to go through a process to get rid of it. And getting to the end of change has to start at the beginning.

At the start people often say “But there has to be a quicker way!” It makes them sound energised and efficiency-minded. That’s the sound of discomfort. The desire to ameliorate it quickly has powerful pull. It’s also dangerous. Acting quickly results in action, but action without clear purpose quickly becomes a ministry of good works. The result is a lot of noise and little impact.

If the answers were that simple you’d have done them already. If it was just a matter of writing it down you’d have that note. And even if you did, ask yourself how many driving tests would get passed if people just read the car manual? Sometimes a strategy or a change plan gets passed around just like that manual. It’s not enough.

To avoid the allure of rushing to the answer (which won’t work), or writing down a plan no one uses, here is my 7-step ANSWER to keeping on track in the process of change:

  1. Agree to change. Clearly name the problem/s you’re addressing. Build understanding and consensus around the causes and consequences. Get agreement that you have officially decided ‘This must change’. If you don’t do this you will probably fail.
  1. Nail the vision. Think “To create a seamless supporter experience that encourages greater support” more than “12 new laptops starting with mine”. The leader of your change must not be tempted into trying to give ‘the answer’ too quickly. It and they will get shot down in flames. Laptops could be part of the answer, equally they may not be. 
  1. Show how you will measure if you’ve achieved the vision. What are the component parts? Don’t say how you’ll achieve it. Again, get agreement. Think “Lifetime value will have increased x%”.
  1. Weigh your options and assess the costs and benefits for how you will achieve those goals. Note – the how is step 4 not step 1. Never accept there is only one way to achieve your outcomes. See things from a variety of angles. Score the options against your goals. See what comes out at the top. Importantly, see what even the best option doesn’t Every solution is a compromise somewhere. Think “Switch from letter thank you to personal call-backs”.
  1. Estimate what needs to happen, who will do it and when. Write this down in a plan. Assign roles and responsibilities for making it happen. Ensure your governance is in place to effectively manage the process of roll out. Execute that plan.
  1. Review how well the execution is going throughout the process of implementation – not just at the end. Keep open communication. When you’re lost look back to the vision. Does the thing you’re doing align? If it doesn’t stop what you’re doing and see if this is a ‘thing that must change’. Write down and communicate the learnings so the next project is even better than this one. That’s your gift to the next team in the queue.

So there is an ANSWER, just not an answer.

Follow the process and when you next find yourself at step 4 before you’re clear on 1-3, grab this note and pass it on.