Strategy, change and involvement

I was reading a post by Amy Gallo of HBR on change and …. it got me thinking.    First, some of the highlights.

– 95% of transformation projects fail (this seems high to me – the McKinsey figure is “over half”)

– don’t separate strategy from action (but lots of the people who are good at action are not good at strategy and vice versa)

– involve lots of people when you are making change (yes but this is expensive and time consuming)

So what do I think about these issues.   First, that, if you want someone to do something creative and non-routine, you need to engage this person in a dialogue that results in them being just as excited about the ambition and just as knowledgeable about the challenge.   Ideally, you want to get them to come up with the idea for change and suggest it to you.  But, often this is not practical – you have already had the idea.  So, in this case, you need to share with them as much of the situation that has caused you to come to a conclusion … and see if they come to the same conclusion.  If they don’t you need to engage in a dialogue and arrive at a jointly agreed way forward.

The process is a bit like briefing a consultant.  You tell the consultant what you are trying to achieve and as much about the situation as possible.  But, you then expect the consultant to do some thinking and data collection of his or her own and come back to you if he or she thinks that your ambition or understanding of the situation is part of the problem rather than the solution.

The bottom line of this way of thinking is “beware being too forceful” – “look for engagement more than loyalty”.  A rule of thumb I use is “strategy – the clever plan bit – should be developed by the person who will lead the action”.  So I often find my self asking – who developed this and who is going to lead the implementation.  If they are different, I start to worry.

But, I also recall a CEO I admire explaining to me that leadership can require the most enormous amount of will power.  The forces of resistance can be so strong and so misguided that you need to “nail your courage to the sticking post” almost every day.  This seems like the opposite of “beware being too forceful”.    I square this circle by arguing that, in this situation, the CEO is “leading the implementation”.   In other words, if you are having to use a lot of will power to get something to happen, then you are leading, you are not letting them lead.

So it is OK to “be forceful” if you are willing to lead.  It is not good to be forceful, if you want the other person to lead.   The danger of leading is that you get followers under you who do what you want rather than leaders who do what is needed to achieve success.

I am not sure what this has to do with operating models!  Maybe it says something about who should design different parts of the operating model.  As work on the model gets into more detail, each sub-leader should design their own part of the operating model.







About Andrew Campbell

Ashridge Executive Education Focus on strategy and organisation Almost retired!
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1 Response to Strategy, change and involvement

  1. Andrew – agree very much with your sentiments re achieving change. An important nuance I feel is the choice of change leadership style, which has to be anchored against the prevailing context. For example, leading change when you have a ‘hell in a hand basket’ scenario before can require dictatorial change, but building a brand new business from scratch requires an all together different style, as does continuous improvement of an otherwsie well performing business – here strong participation can leverage innovation, etc. I get really concerned when you see folks advocating a one size fits all approach with change – especially when change participants paradigms can differ so much! RR

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