No executive in their right mind would compete in the marketplace without a clear business strategy, yet many undergo multimillion dollar change efforts without a clear change strategy. No wonder so many change efforts fail to produce their expected ROI.
While your business strategy determines what in your organization needs to change, your change strategy clarifies how you will make those changes happen.
Building an effective change strategy will accelerate your change and reduce its cost. It will increase your effort’s efficiency, spped up your laaunch, remove unnecessary or redundant activities, and engage your people optimally.
In this article, we will identify the three key aspects of a comprehensive change strategy and the ten core elements you will need to consider in developing your own.
Change strategies address three general topics about your change: its content, people, and process. Content refers to what in your organization needs to change—strategy, structure, systems, technology, business processes, products, services, or culture. Content describes the “business solution” being designed and implemented, and typically gets the most leadership attention.
The People component of your change strategy includes people’s emotional reactions to the change, how to address the changes in mindset, behavior, and culture that your future state requires, how to engage your people in design and implementation, and how to ensure commitment and capacity to change.
Your people strategies are as important as the content of your change. Without your people being ready, willing, and able to make the change, your business solutions will never get implemented successfully. Most change efforts fail because of lack of attention or skill applied to the people dynamics.
Often, leaders delegate these issues to the Human Resource department, which deals with them separately from the content changes. This approach does not work! Attending to the people dynamics should be done as an integrated component of the design and implementation of your content.
The Process component of your change strategy sketches out a high-level roadmap to get you from where you are today to where you need to be to achieve results from your change. The process sets your change up for success; moves you through the design of sound solutions, testing, and planning of those solutions; implementation, all the way through to full realization…attending to all of the people and cultural issues along the way. The key to success is consciously designing your change process to handle all the content and people issues together as one effort. Note that this is a high-level plan of milestones, not a tactical project plan. That comes later.
The following graphic shows the three components of change strategy as a three-legged stool. All three components are necessary for your change strategy to stand on its own.
There are ten core elements of change strategy. Not every change requires attention to all ten, so tailor them to the type and magnitude of your change effort. As you consider the list, notice that they address content, people, and process.
Change is all about taking a good idea or new direction and making it real. All change proceeds from “concept to pragmatics” becoming more and more tangible along the way. Your values and guiding principles drive the design of your new direction and form the conceptual and cultural foundation of the tangible future state you are trying to create.
This element makes values and guiding principles conscious and explicit in how you design and lead your change. Your change process must reflect and embody the values and principles of the future you are creating or people will not believe the change is real. In other words, you must model the future in the way in which you lead and carry out your change effort.
As you move through your change process, you must ensure that your values and principles have tangible influence on your design requirements, the way in which you engage people, how you communicate, how you design implementation, etc. Make them overt in your change strategy, and keep them “visible” throughout your change.
There are four actions to determine how you will govern your change:
These four actions are key elements of your overall change infrastructure. When communicated, they demonstrate to your organization the importance of the change and that you are leading it with clear roles and authority. As you proceed through your change, add to your change infrastructure as needed. Include any temporary teams, systems, course correction vehicles, or technology you will use to support your initiative.
This element translates the scope of your change into actual initiatives that address your organizational and technical changes as well as your required human and cultural changes. Integrate these into one unified “theme” for your overall effort, which will demonstrate to your organization how all initiatives are aligned to deliver the collective results of your change. This element will help simplify the apparent magnitude and complexity of your change, and clarify confusing, competing, or unrelated change work.
Even if your overall change is enterprise-wide, other large changes are likely also occurring in the organization. This element clarifies where your effort fits among all of the other organizational priorities. Ideally, the level of priority given to your effort by your sponsors will match the degree of visibility and resources allocated to it. Your intent with this element is to clarify how your change effort fits within and supports your organization’s business strategy requirements.
Where there is obvious interdependence or overlap among any of the sub-initiatives within your overall effort, or interdependence between your effort and others occurring in the organization, you need an integration strategy that can surface, address, and streamline the work across efforts or regions. This element creates a Multiple Project Integration strategy to overtly look for redundancy, competition, or gaps among changes and constructively align them to share resources, reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and accelerate the pace of your changes.
If your changes are significant or require your currently “successful” organization to alter course, you may need to do something radical to wake people up to the seriousness or magnitude of the new direction. Bold actions are highly visible, “outside the norm” moves that dramatically demonstrate that “things are going to be very different around here.” It is powerful for senior leaders to identify bold actions, and equally important for them to carry them out to have the intended impact. Examples include selling off a business line, removing a whole layer of the organization, or reallocating significant resources. Bold actions should be a calculated part of your change strategy.
Transformational change cannot succeed without significant engagement of stakeholders and frequent, multi-directional communications (up, down, and across the hierarchy).
Stakeholders must be engaged early in understanding the case for change, vision, and direction. They must be part of inputting to the design requirements and actual design of the change, not just brought in downstream during implementation.
Most normal, top-down corporate communication channels are inadequate for complex change. Change communications require interaction, exploration, and a high level of engagement to ensure that the changes and their implications are felt and understood. Your communication plan must take the human dynamics of change into account from the beginning, and at every step of the way.
Because engagement and communications are such central aspects of people dynamics, both must be included in your overall change strategy.
Everyone wants change to go faster, but change takes the time it takes. And, there are ways to accelerate it. Be cautious here, however; pushing change beyond its pace actually makes it go slower. This is a very common problem in most change efforts.
Examples of effective acceleration strategies include large group engagement meetings to handle visioning, design, or impact analysis; putting special teams together to tackle key issues full time; running key aspects of the change in “parallel;” integrating activities with other change efforts; or, setting up conditions for success at the beginning.
Your change strategy should determine a high-level “guesstimate” of the types and magnitude of the resources you will need to carry it out. Resources may include capital assets, people, expertise, technology, support, and time. Recall that the allocation of major resources can be a bold action as well as a critical message about the importance of the change. Also, identify how you will renegotiate your resource needs when you recognize variations from your original estimates.
Create a macro plan that outlines the phases and milestone events for carrying out your change effort. This is a high-level roadmap, not your detailed implementation plan. As part of your change strategy, it should communicate how you will roll out the change and at what pace. It should include your critical actions, events, announcements, decisions, and benchmarks.
Deciding each of these elements of your change strategy will inevitably trigger critical discussions among your change leaders and executives. These conversations, well facilitated, can produce essential clarity, even if they surface confusions or differences along the way. Clarifying these elements—for your executives and stakeholders in the change—will greatly accelerate your effort and reduce its costs.
When completed, compile these elements into a summary document that can be communicated to your organization. Use it to demonstrate that the leaders of the change have thought through the effort, have a comprehensive strategy, and are committed to its success.