26 August 2009 • 7:00 am

The Case of the Undermined Change Program – Part III

In Parts I and II of this case, I recounted the history of an engagement I had several years ago with a particularly challenging client, WorldCo, a division of a large U.S. corporation. We met Reggie, the head of the WorldCo division, Karen, his head of strategy, and Linda, Karen’s deputy (all names and some details have been changed). Please read Parts I and II now if you haven’t done so already.

Each of the many dozens of strategy map workshops I have facilitated in my career has been different, but they have all been exhilarating. For up to eight hours, I (and typically a colleague) guide a group of executives to construct and agree to a concise yet richly detailed expression of the strategy for the organization (read more about the art and science of strategy map design). With only a few exceptions, executives emerged from their efforts highly satisfied with the result of their efforts, and energized about strategy execution.

Over the years, my colleagues and I have developed an understanding of the ingredients for a successful strategy map session. All members of the leadership team in attendance, and fully engaged (e-mail and telephone calls only permitted on breaks, no laptops or PDAs allowed). No more than about fifteen people in the room. A carefully developed draft strategy map that has been previewed with the leader of the organization. The pacing of the discussions that enhance and revise the draft map must be carefully managed, and it is important to “read the room” to sense when it is time to seek closure on a discussion.

The unique challenge for the particular workshop at WorldCo was the fact that we also had to accomplish what normally would have taken place during a separate kick-off meeting. An overview of the rationale for implementing the strategic management system, a brief review of the concepts of balanced scorecard itself, and an understanding of the project calendar needed to be accomplished in less than 90 minutes if we were to have the time to accomplish the strategy map workshop in the same day. Kick-off meetings sometimes become a bit of a challenge themselves when team members are not fully bought-in to the idea of a strategic management system. Overcoming grumbling and skepticism can cause kick-off meetings to run a bit long, and for that reason alone, it is better to schedule them separately. In an organization where we had already learned that time was always scarce, and that the culture accepted the reality of executives double- and triple- booking their calendars, my biggest concern was not finishing the map in the allotted time. And if needed, it would take weeks to schedule a follow-up meeting. My colleague and I were a bit edgy.

Offsetting our concerns was two key benefits. With only Reggie and his eight direct reports, Linda, my colleague, and I would only be facilitating discussion among nine executives. The challenge of facilitation increases greatly with more executives in the room, and fifteen is about as many as had been facilitated successfully. And, our draft strategy map had been properly vetted with Reggie, and nothing on it was likely to be especially controversial. So we were in pretty good shape.

When we arrived to set up at the meeting room in a nearby hotel early that morning, I was dismayed to see a much larger room than expected set with around eight round tables and six chairs at each, instead of the small “U” -shaped table arrangement we had requested. Karen sheepishly explained that she had gotten a call from Reggie the day before (while I was airborne to WorldCo’s headquarters), suggesting that each of his direct reports invite a few of their direct reports to attend the workshop also. Apparently, Reggie was so pleased with the draft strategy map that he wanted to involve as many members of his extended management team as possible in our workshop. Not wanting to push back on what seemed (at least to Reggie) like a good idea, Karen agreed. So instead of facilitating a group of nine, we were set to facilitate a group of forty or more managers, many of whom had no prior knowledge of the program. Needless to say, I was upset and concerned, but with 40-plus people already beginning to arrive and mill around the lavish breakfast buffet, there wasn’t much that could be done.

Next: Part IV: Workshop and afterglow

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