27 August 2009 • 7:00 am

The Case of the Undermined Change Program – Part IV

In Parts I through III 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, II, and III  now if you haven’t done so already.

It would have been so easy for the workshop to have been awful. Forty-five executives and managers instead of the promised nine, many of whom had no advance understanding of what was going on. A not very cohesive leadership team, with at least some evidence of rivalry and political intrigue among them. Some open skepticism about the process (although this was typical), and an organization whose culture seemed to be all about impatience. And in me, a somewhat rattled facilitator.

And yet, it worked. During Reggie’s warm introduction of my colleague and me, he acknowledged that he had changed the rules on us by inviting so many people. He asked everyone in attendance to give us their full attention, and hoped that they would emerge from the day as excited about the work as he was. He said all the right things, and did so in a way that was both humble and energizing, and he electrified everyone in the room. I’ve rarely seen a leader so charismatic and so engaging. And he remained engaged all the way through the day.

The introductory material that comprised the kick-off meeting was received without much discussion, and it seemed as though most understood both our approach and the Reggie’s rationale for the program (remember that it was actually Karen’s idea to begin with). Any traces of skepticism were easily addressed, with Reggie’s backing. Karen and Linda were mostly silent – it was clearly Reggie’s show. As we got into the content of the strategy map itself, I suggested that we limit participation in the discussion to only the eight members of Reggie’s direct leadership team, and there was no resistance.

When leadership team interviews result in an aggressive change agenda, I tend to foster discussion about the ability of the organization to do everything at once; this is the concept of capacity for change I’ve written about earlier. But when the draft strategy map is timid (as was the case with WorldCo), I try to challenge the organization to reach for a more ambitious agenda. I had obtained Reggie’s blessing for this approach during our preview meeting. As we went through the strategic objectives one by one, I was able to guide the leadership team to strengthen the language, and to agree to stretch the WorldCo’s objectives enough to make the strategy into a real change program, rather than the perpetuation of the status quo I had feared. Reggie and his leaders were entirely on board, and everything flowed smoothly.

At the close of the meeting, we invited Reggie to get up and present the newly hatched strategy map, which he effectively did without skipping a beat. We identified performance advocates, and I briefly recapped the next steps in the process; identifying measures, collecting data, and reporting results, and communicating strategy across the entire WorldCo employee community. Reggie’s closing remarks were a ringing endorsement of the strategy map that his team had built (with our help), and he challenged everyone in the room to make the strategy a reality.

Next: Part V: Reality and reflection

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