How Successful Strategies Win: Strategic Change as an Interdependent Process
All organizations have business processes, and today’s organizations are constantly trying to transform – from manufacturing to brand-led, from domestic to global. But if you ask organizations for the process that guides the way they manage the organization through change, you may get a blank stare.
Strategic change is a process, but it’s often managed as a series of independent events led by functions. It’s not the process itself but how it’s executed that differentiates the winners from the losers. Organizations that “win” have some unwavering principles that guide the way they lead the strategic change process.
1. They force collaboration and shared meaning across functional boundaries while maintaining functional ownership and accountability. Football players have a detailed playbook and practice plays countless times before they’re ever called in a game. They do this to make sure that every player has shared meaning for how the play should be run and the type of adjustments they may need to make.
In business transformation, playbooks are often handed to functional leaders, and the next step is “game day” execution. Six to 12 months later, the Sales group and the Marketing group don’t look like they are on the same team! It becomes painfully obvious that these functions never had shared meaning on the organization’s desired future state and strategic priorities. Winning organizations allocate “practice” time, when functional leaders collaborate to form a clear, shared picture of the future state and strategy. Then, when “audibles” are called during the transformation, they’re executed with a common mental model in mind.
2. They invest in capability-building at all levels, starting with the top leaders. Change is difficult, and we often ask others to change before we are willing to change ourselves. Senior executives aren’t immune to this. They often chart a course for strategic change without considering how they need to change and grow. At the executive level, these capability shifts are tied to observable behaviors – how leaders spend their time or what they reward. Because employees often model their leaders’ behaviors, leadership behaviors must change first. Winning organizations clearly define and track the behavioral shifts required by leaders if the organization is to achieve its desired future state.
3. They shatter traditional hierarchies and enroll a larger group of leaders as advocates in the change. “Strategy” and “change” are usually very confidential. Only the top senior leaders plan the change, while everyone else is informed on a “need to know” basis. This usually causes the transformation to crumble under its own weight because the only “advocates” are the few who drafted the change. Winning organizations enroll a broad group of leaders in the change. This next level often brings truth statements, barriers, and most important, new solutions to the executive team.
Without crafting a process for managing the change you’ve planned, you’re making your game much more difficult to win.