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Change and Moving Beyond the Status-Quo

One Stands Holding Change, Others CrushedI wrote a response to another comment by Stephen McGrail today about what do you do to help people move beyond the status-quo in their thinking to embrace change. It set me thinking about change and strategy and why it's so hard to implement strategy that results in real change rather than perpetuating the gap between planning and doing. The conversation I had with Stephen was around why people resist change or prefer to not change, remaining in the status-quo.

I've done a bit of reading on why people resist or don't like change, so thought I'd share my a few references here. These relate to strategy and after all dealing with change in organisations is about creating strategy that can respond to and take advantage of that change.

What's common? Pay attention to people not plans, involve people in the process and make time to think about change on a continuing basis.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ten Reasons People Resist Change, HBR Blog Network, September 2012.

This article is what it says it is - ten reasons (excuses) people use to resist change. To be fair, not all of them are excuses and reasons for resisting change will vary depending on the individual and the context - which is why there's no checklist by helping people move their thinking beyond the status-quo.

Michael Birshan and Jayanti Kar, Becoming More Strategic: Three Tips for Any Executive, McKinsey&Company, July 2012.

Three ways of becoming more strategic are mentioned and it is the third that relates to helping people change their thinking: Develop communications that can break through. This is about working out how to 'make strategic insights cut through the day-to-day morass of information that any executive receives' (page 3). Communicating the rationale for change and doing it well is critical for thinking beyond the status-quo.

Kathleen Davis, Disrupt Your Thinking, Transform Your Business, Entrepeneur, June 2013

This is a short article with the key message for me being 'leaders must give their employees permission to stop focusing only on what needs to be accomplished by the end of the day or week. They must 'force strategic introspection on a regular basis...the goal is to consistently carve out unstructured creative time.' This means giving people permission to explore the nature of change and what it means for them, their work and their organisation and institutionalise time for strategic thinking.

Jeanne Liedtka, Beyond Business Strategy: Strategy as Experienced, Rotman Magazine, Winter 2011

I really like this paper. Its key point: 'knowing [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][about the strategy] is not enough....feeling strategy must accompany knowing it. What does it mean to feel strategy - to experience it in an emotional as well as a cognitive way? One thing is certain: it will require a fundamental change to our basic conception of what strategy is all about.' Liedtka makes the point that reading about a strategy, a change, does not make it real to people in an organisation with the critical factor for managers being to avoid having the strategy ignored. She suggests that something has to disrupt our habitual thinking or schemas - interesting is more important than true in this context. There needs to be a shift from goals to desires - because 'desire is the true driver of behavioural change'.

So strategy as we commonly understand it relies on communicating plans and mission statements, strategy as experienced, 'relies more heavily on dialogue-based strategic conversation as it foundation, with significant use of stories and metaphors, developed iteratively in an experimental approach'. This needs (i) participation in the conversation, (ii) acknowledge role of concrete, (iii) promote experimentation and (iv) move beyond outcome metrics. Highly recommended.

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What stood out in 2013 - Change and Transformation

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What stood out in 2013 - Change and Transformation

It's list season again and the 10 best or top 10 list for this and that are being published. I don't like that very much because the lists can rarely be anything more than superficial and often focus on 'gee whiz' type items. So, I won't go there, instead one thing stood out for me this year as I worked with my clients, and that is our shifting understanding of change. My work is all about change - scanning uncertainties to try and understand that nature of change that's coming, helping people identify the implications of relevant change for their organisation, using the information gathered to craft alternative future scenarios and then working to understand implications for strategic action today.

It's all about building a longer term context for today's strategic decision making.

It seemed to me this year that our undertanding of organisational change hit saturation point. Previously, we talked about 'change is a constant' but this seemed to be an 'out there' comment. Now change seems to have surfaced into our collective consciousness - in here - instead of being a phrase we used when we were overwhelmed at work. Now we are still overwhelmed and have increased the complexity we face by realising the depth of that change is more than we ever thought possible. The depth, multifaceted and interconnected nature of the change people in organisations face is becoming real, as is the realisation that there are no easy answers, that this is the realm of wicked problems.

Yet, our response still seems to be change programs - or as universities are prone to do, restructure yet again. I see change programs everywhere and I also sense that people are fed up with them. They aren't fed up with change, just how organisations make them respond to change.

Why? At the surface level, because change programs rarely live up to the rhetoric or the positive intent they come with. This results in people saying things like It's just change for change's sake or There's so much change but nothing's really changing. Change programs are usually a response to some major change in the industry environment, which is akin to treating the symptom of a disease rather than the cause. Industry change is driven and shaped by deeper, global forces of change which is best described as a messy change ecosystem - time spent understanding that messiness will pay off in the long run by providing that longer term context to help decide really needs to change today.

My sense is that in most change programs there's a lot of attention paid to the change program project design, progress reports, the agreements with unions and the structure of the restructure but there's less attention paid to the intangibles of change - the people side. After all, it's people who implement change, yet often staff are treated as pawns in the game of change, kept in the dark, not given information, not asked to participate in the process, just implement the change.

Even when staff participation is there and it's good, generating energy and commitment, organisational politics often get in the way, derailing all the best intentions. Little or no time is spent on helping people change the way they think about how they work and relate with each other, so people move offices and buildings, get a new title, a new desk, a new boss and some new work colleagues - but nothing about how they work really changes.

I do wonder if it's time we stopped talking about change and began talking seriously about about transformation.

For effective change to happen, people will need to transform the way they work, and that means transforming the way they think about how they work.

That requires transformational leadership and transformational processes. Individual transformation must accompany organisational transformation.

Tweaks to the status quo with a new structure or a new title or a good consultation round won't be enough to deal with the depth of change we face anymore. We need to move beyond addressing they symptoms of change to transforming how we think, work and organise what we do to be futures ready, to be flexible enough to respond to change before it hits. Our organisations need transformation that so that flexibility is inbuilt, innate and unquestioned, and our thinking needs transformation so that we can let go quickly and adapt to the new. It's time to stop moving the deck chairs.

Transformation as a pathway to the future for organisations is not a new idea. Burton Clark talked about the entrepreneurial university as a way to achieve transformation in 2001. It seems that we haven't been paying attention to what the word really means in practice.

What does it mean? Of course I'd say reframe your strategy processes by infusing them with foresight approaches - this will generate the space, resources and collaborative processes needed to move towards transformation. That's the starting point.

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Toss out the planning rulebooks

I read an interesting post from Herman Trend Alerts last week on Creativity - the Most Crucial Factor for Leadership Success. Right at the end was this phrase: Continuous Strategic Planning will be an ongoing process, rather than an annual one, so that the organization may respond to fast changing market conditions.

Now, I don't think this is a new idea, or one that has escaped the minds of those of us who do strategic planning in one way or another in our jobs.  But, it is an important idea. In environments where change is a constant, where the external environment is increasing in complexity, writing a plan and sticking to it religiously for three or five years no longer seems like a good idea. So, how do we make strategic planning continuous?

First, we have to unlearn the strategic planning rulebook.  Read Henry Mintzberg's classic, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, as a starter.

Strategic planning is one essential part of strategy development and implementation. Yet, by blindly following the strategic planning rule book, we have conditioned ourselves  to believe that if we check all the boxes, we will have a plan that will take us to the future, and that we can publish it and then forget about it.

The strategic planning rule book generates diagrams like this. They look good, but the energy that goes into creating them could better be spent on thinking about the future.

Second, we have to unlearn what we think strategic planning is by recognising two things:

  • strategy is about the future - the starting point is your organisation's preferred future - where you want to go - not where you are and what you are doing today,
  • strategic planning is about what you will do today to get to your preferred future, and that will require more than business-as-usual thinking; it's about paying attention to the 'strategic' word.

Third, we have to try new ways of creating strategy - ways that will allow you and your organisation to build a strategic foresight capacity. Try these steps.

1. Scan the environment on a continuing basis to better understand the nature of change in your operating environment, both locally and globally, and consider possible responses before that change reaches your organisation.

2 Share what you are finding and ask for comments within your organisation and with your stakeholders. Take advantage of social media to do this, which has at its core the principles of collaboration, participation and co-creation - words which have been used, in some form or another, in planning rhetoric for a long time. If you want your staff to be engaged with your plan, start engaging them at the beginning of the process, not the end.

3 Hold a thinking workshop with your staff and stakeholders. Rebadge your annual planning workshop as a thinking workshop. Ask participants to review scanning information and come to the thinking workshop prepared to talk about the major issues they see influencing the future of your company. Seek divergent perspectives and challenge status quo thinking and explore possible futures to identify new options using tools like  scenario planning.  A note here, status quo thinking might be very relevant and very appropriate, but it needs to be challenged before you make that assessment.

4 Make your strategic decisions about your preferred future, your goals to define what needs to change, your actions to implement your goals, and your measures to make sure you are on track.

5 Now, write your plan.

Implement your plan, and require  people to focus on asking 'proactive futures questions' when they have to make a strategic decision. See the table here for the difference between reactive and proactive future questions. Reactive questions happen after an event, proactive questions are asked in anticipation of an event.

7 Monitor outcomes on a continuing basis - someone, somewhere in the organisation will need to be responsible for drawing this all together and cross-referencing planning outcomes with your scanning output. Most importantly at this step, change your plan's goals or actions if you are alerted to changes in your future operating environment - both today and into the future.

If you embed this sort of strategy process in your organisation, you will have continuous strategic planning. You will no longer reify your plan or your planning process. You will be able to re-direct the resources you now spend on producing a plan to setting up a socially mediated system, one that is technologically based, that will allow you to adjust your plan to respond to changes in the external environment ahead of time.

You will have an organisation that is building a strategic foresight capacity, that will allow you to recognise emerging trends, to identify possible implications and to develop proactive responses to address those implications.

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