25 June 2009 • 11:23 am

The Facilitator’s Toolkit: Capturing the Change Agenda

After the initial challenge of change programs (getting leaders to agree on the need for change), the next challenge is to gain consensus on the change agenda. Organizations familiar with balanced scorecard (BSC) know that the BSC strategy mapping process is a powerful tool for visualizing strategy and gaining consensus. But the strategy map is not always the right tool for the job.

A simple tool, which I call the Change Agenda (many other variants and names for this approach are used by management consultants) entails capturing and naming a small number of dimensions (or topics) for change, and driving leadership team consensus on a desired future state for each. The result can be visualized on a single screen image or sheet of paper that requires almost no explanation. This tool is especially useful when there is a past history of failed BSCs, or the leadership team simply isn’t yet bought in to the idea of the BSC.

The process is pretty straightforward. Identify the leadership team (should be no more than about 15 people, 8-12 is typical) and schedule 30 to 45 minute interviews with each. In each interview, explain the process, and ask the team member to envision the organization as a great success at some future point (I like to pick an easy date to visualize, like the January 1st or the first day of the company’s fiscal year), typically two to five years hence. The key question: When you compare that successful organization with today’s, what is different? Ask open-ended follow-up questions and capture everything you hear.

In capturing each leader’s answers, you can begin to shape their vision into a shared vocabulary. This doesn’t mean you are changing the vision, but you are enabling the process by facilitating agreement on the words. So if the first person says, “We are terrible today at supplier management,” and the second person says, “We will have better costs of raw materials,” they might be talking about the same thing, procurement. So restate: “So are you saying that we need to change the procurement process?” If the answer is ‘yes,’ great. If the answer is ‘no,’ that’s great too. Each interview enables you, as the facilitator, to better understand what is important in each leader’s future vision. Don’t try to shape too much – there’ll be time for that during the facilitated session.

After all the interviews, but in advance of the facilitated session, prepare a presentation slide (e.g. PowerPoint) with three columns on it. The first column is your distilled list of topics raised. Each topic should only be a couple of words. The third column is the desired future state for each topic, as best summarized by what you’ve heard. You may quote a team member, but only if the words are sufficiently generic to shield the speaker’s identity. The second column is the current state for each topic. This is less important than the desired future state, but whatever words you choose here will be controversial. That’s okay. The hardest part of this exercise is to fit this work on only one page. Don’t fret if you can’t, but one page is your goal. Three pages makes for a very lengthy facilitated session.

In the group session itself, you should review the process before revealing the slide. Congratulate the team on their strongly-held beliefs, and note how much (or little) they seem to be in agreement. Reveal each topic, one at a time, and briefly describe the current and desired future states. Ask your group to hold their comments, which may be difficult. After you’ve briefly described each topic area, the discussion can begin.

I like to ask the team to first look at the topics, and ask if there are any that can be combined. Getting agreement on the topic list is the first milestone in the process. Try to get agreement to the items and words in the topic list before discussing the future state. The most powerful way to change the slide in real time is to have a helper sitting at a laptop computer connected to a projector, so that everyone can see the slide evolve. If this isn’t possible, a large white board with dry-erase markers can be used.

The discussions of each topic will be energetic, and may go on a bit. It’s hard to convey the skill needed to bring each of these discussions to closure, but your most important skill as a facilitator is to listen. As part of each topic discussion, you should also gain agreement on a few words to describe the current state. These words should be less focused on criticizing past decisions, but to provide a clear point of departure for the journey to the desired change.

At the end of the session, you will have (ideally) facilitated agreement among the leadership team as to the desired future state for the organization. This is not a trivial task, and you should graciously accept the teams thanks for your skillful facilitation effort!


Here is an example of the change agenda I facilitated for an IT organization that was published in Kaplan and Norton’s Strategy Maps. In future posts, I’ll dive into the content of this and other organization’s change agendas, and talk about next steps.

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