So your company has downsized to survive the changed economy, but to grow into a thriving business it needs to pivot, you know the general direction but you don’t have all the detail yet. You are worried because you need to get this moving as soon as possible. My advice is to slow down. Yes, you heard right, you don’t need to work out the detail, the plan doesn’t need to come from you, the answers are with your employees, if you can connect with them.
So, you have an idea and you want to put ‘meat on the bones’, let’s get your leadership team together. Make it a special meeting for a whole day. If the team is more than six people split them into groups of three or more, (no more than six, you will lose the creative buzz). Try to keep the teams as multidisciplinary as possible, e.g. HR with Ops and Quality, HSSE with Supply Chain and Finance, to try to keep the discussion as diverse as possible.
Step 1 ‘Generate ‘As is’
On flip-chart sheets get the teams to draw “How customers see us”. The only words allowed are labels on a drawing. Once they are finished get them to draw “How do our employees see us?”
Get each team to feedback back to the group on what they have drawn and what it means. What they are doing is agreeing a current state, you can also pick-up what they are thinking. Doing this in pictures strips away a lot of communication barriers, encompasses more intangible (but no less important) sentiments, forces the team members out of tactical thinking (next week and next quarter) and, most importantly gets the leadership team working together to think in the medium to long term.
Now lay out your idea, try to do it just by describing it, no slides, no pictures just your voice and your enthusiasm. Start by laying out the dangers to the organisation of not changing, ideally you will draw on what the teams have drawn to help you land that message. Next lay out your idea and tell then how you think it will remedy or mitigate these dangers. Allow the team to ask questions but only give them information on what things will look like when your idea is in place, not how to get there (that will be their task later). They will continue to ask questions for a while so once you feel they get what you are thinking move the team onto the next exercise.
Step 2 Develop the ‘To be’
The next exercise is to get each team to draw “What will the company look like when we reach the Vision”. Allow the team to get some marks on the paper before spend a short spells with each team listening to what they are discussing, keep them focused and only explain when you feel they are not quite ‘getting’ your intent.
As the teams are finishing ask them to bullet point the messages they have intended to communicate with their picture(s). Now they get to brief back to each other, initially with their drawings and summing up with their bullet points.
Now the team needs to come together to write a vision statement. A vision statement is one sentence that describes what the organisation will look/ feel like when the change process is complete. Spend some time on this as the team need to discuss and agree every word because each of the team members will need to take it with them to their teams and be able to convincingly answer questions on it.
As the team get into their flow, get them to tie the words together into one sentence (two at most). You can put your input from this point. The team are finished when each team member is broadly satisfied with the sentence, this will be the draft Vision Statement.
The next stage is to start to break the vision down into things that need to be put in place for the vision to be possible. Again, this is done as a whole team. Remember this exercise is very high level; big hands full, the detail will come later. This will be the bones of your change strategy.
As the discussion of these strategy elements moves on the team might need to revisit the Vision Statement to adjust the wording but try not to lose the underlying intent.
As the strategy elements are nearing completion begin to discuss, “In data terms how will we know when we have reached the vision?” These may be costs, employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction revenue, or even new sales. The team can then work on the measures that will indicate when each of the strategy elements have been achieved.
Next you will need to allocate owners for each strategy element. Each team member takes responsibility for the strategy element and for reaching the measure of success. Clearly each element will cross organisational boundaries, so as the strategy is communicated and actioned down through the organisational levels the team will need to provide resources to each other, or ‘reinforcing sponsorship’, for the whole strategy to succeed.
Each element owner is now responsible for reporting back to the team with a realistic delivery date that the team can negotiate and adjust to form a delivery plan.
Building this vision and strategy should be done in one go, it can be done in one day. The next stage would be for each of the Leaders to gather a cross-functional team together to break down their strategy element into actions (this might need to be done in stages, i.e. strategy element>sub-element>task). This can be done in a similar team-based manner as you have taken your leadership team through.
Kotter’s 8 Steps to change
What we’re really talking about here is change management. We have all read some of the books (50,000 on a change management search on Amazon), the most popular, I would suggest is John Kotter’s Leading Change, or perhaps Our Iceberg is Melting. Kotter, through research of various types of organisation, identified 8 common causes of change failure and suggested a corresponding 8 stages for successful change (See the image).
Doing the exercises I outlined above will have generated the first three stages, “Create a Sense of Urgency”, “Form a guiding coalition” and “Form a strategic vision and initiatives”, though it will be tested and might need to be adjusted as it is communicated down through the organisation but the intent should be kept. You will have formed a kernel of the guiding coalition but as the change is communicated out and actions are initiated you will be expanding this coalition as you go and building an “Volunteer Army”.
A business unit leader asked me to run a training course on leading Lean for his leadership team. We had a standard course in our library which included an element on Change Leadership. On day two of the course we tackled how to incorporate the learnings into the organisation’s way of working.
We ran the visioning exercise and facilitated the team in developing their strategy. The vision question was “What will this [Business Unit] look like when the company has reached its 5 year vision”. I asked the Leader to leave the room ‘to answer some emails’ whilst they were generating their pictures, bringing him back for the teams to brief him, this allowed them to talk to each other without influence.. I coached the leader on how to facilitate the team to build the vision statement and stood back allowing him to take the reins; to own the change. I did the same when it came to the strategy build.
My co-facilitator was locally based, and the leadership team pulled on him to run similar sessions for vision deployment and action planning with the next management level. As the vision and strategy deployed the wording was tested leading to some changes, as any properly deployed change requires, but the main intentions were never compromised.
The unit developed a layered visual management approach to manage the change having (depending on the management level) daily and weekly 15 min check-ins. They ran the session 10 months ago and from the last report they were still on track to reach their goal.
Darren Clyde has spent 15 years working with organisations and teams to reduce cost and effort of doing business. He has worked with many teams in different countries from a wide range of backgrounds including, HR, Operations and even a the engineering function of a military cargo fleet, to help them develop and deploy a vision and subsequent change management.
(Kotter, J; 2012) Leading Change, Havard Business Review Press
(Kotter, J; Rathgerber, H, 2017) Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions (10th Anniversary Edition), Macmillan