Strategy and personal change
There are some self-evident truths about the implementation of a strategy.
Strategy implementation creates change; that change is either evolutionary or revolutionary depending on the nature of the strategy.
People react to change driven, in a large part, by “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM)
That’s when things get complex. To understand WIIFM for their staff, leaders have to be part mind-reader.
For individual staff members to understand WIIFM themselves, they have to have a clear view of what is important to them.
That’s when things get more complex. Individuals can know what’s important to them as a short-term element or as a long-term element. Most people don’t know their own personal long-term version until later in their life – “I did not know wanted out of life until I was forty-something” is a common refrain.
When they can only express to themselves their short-term needs, individuals evaluate changes that flow from the strategy against those short-term needs.
When they can express their long-term needs they instead evaluate the changes against both their short-term and long-term needs.
When, as a leader, you can demonstrate that your strategy will help individuals achieve their long-term needs, they will embrace your change.
When you demonstrate that you are willing to help them overcome personal barriers to achieving more in the organisation, to achieve their long-term needs, they will become disciples of your strategy.
When you demonstrate you are willing to remove organisational barriers and your own leadership barriers to help them achieve more in the organisation, which in turn supports achieving their long-term needs, they will become apostles of your change.
So how do we achieve this transformation, aligning people so strongly to our strategy?
In a word used by one of the very few advertisements to tickle my funny bone on Australian TV, it is “simples.”
It is simple but not cheap. However, the return on investment is high. Having a critical mass of people personally aligned to your strategy creates enormous benefits, not only in terms of implementation of your strategy, but also in terms of retention rates, discretionary effort, training attendance, transfer of learning back to the workplace, and innovation through empowerment.
It is not sufficient, in order to quickly get the alignment needed to create a critical mass of people supporting the change associated with your strategy, to have a good communication strategy and plan, or training strategy and plan. The communication and training plans must have within them face-to-face time for all employees.
Normally that face-to-face time is in the shape of a workshop. Time is required for people to see that they are all in the same metaphorical boat. To see that they have similar fears about the future and doubts about themselves. It requires a series of whole-of-company workshops, preferably including the board in small- to medium-sized organisations, and senior executives in all organisations.
The aim of the workshop is get clear alignment between the corporate strategy and the emotions, thoughts, and deeds of a critical mass of staff. In the end, you always end up achieving full alignment with less than 100% of the individuals in the organisation. The target, however, is not 100%; it’s whatever is considered a critical mass. When that critical mass is achieved, those individuals who remain reluctant have no choice but to at least passively join in in order to get their job done, because of the interactions they have in workplace processes and relationships.
The agenda of the workshops is different for every organisation and every change. However, the critical elements are the same.
The elements are:
- Providing people an environment where they can discover what their personal long term aspirations are.
- Allowing people the opportunity to understand – in their terms – what the strategy is, why it is needed, and what the results of a successful implementation will be for them and those they care about.
- Demonstrating how their participation in the execution of the strategy will allow them to create the potential to achieve their long-term aspirations.
- Providing an environment where they can identify their personal barriers to achieving their long-term aspirations without fear.
- Providing an environment where the organisational barriers to people achieving their aspirations are identified.
- Committing to help them remove their barriers and removing the organisational barriers consistent with the organisation’s Vision, Mission, and Code of Ethics.
- Developing an action plan for individuals and the organisation alike that is entered into formal planning processes.
Getting long term results
Workshops designed this way and facilitated well always generate goodwill and a high intention to change in individuals. Without follow-up, however, it is normal within a year or so for the majority of people to have lost the enthusiasm originally associated with their intention to change.
The single most important thing to do is to follow through on the removal of organisational barriers, and demonstrate that you are at least trying diligently to remove your identified leadership barriers. The next most important thing is to communicate the decision-making process in making those changes, and the impact of making the changes. The third most important thing to do is to ensure that the leaders of teams all the way up the line of management are trained to coach their staff in the removal of their personal barriers.
This might sound like a lot of effort, but the long-term results are definitely worth it.