The strategy dilemma for change

Strategy in ChangeTranslating a guess into a plan

The dilemma for change managers leading a strategic organisation change is translating the uncertainty of the strategic analysis and decisions into actionable plans to deliver benefits. The problem is that there is no right answer to the question “what should our strategy be?”

The strategists have looked into the future using a number of strategy tools and have identified some scenarios which appear to be good for the organisation. The resulting strategy they have chosen (captured in their strategic objectives for the organisation) is dependent on an array of factors, some under the control of the organisation, many are not. Since it is not possible to carry out a trial of the strategy you have to run with the one chosen and make the best of it.

In making the best of the current strategy the change leader must also hedge some futures so that any changes made to the organisation keep open as many options as possible for the future and don’t back the organisation into a position where it no longer works in the reality that arises.

What can the change leaders do to manage their dilemma?

There are two direct actions change leaders can do to help manage the uncertainty of strategy whilst delivering real and useful change in an organisation: understand where the strategy came from and be prepared to change what you plan to change.

Understand the strategy

There are two key aspects of developing a strategy that tend to get forgotten. First is the assumptions that have been made. This includes filters on the information that is examined and consequently what has been ignored. In the first few years of this century most strategists assumed that economies would continue to grow and ignored information to the contrary. Then came the collapse of Lehman Brothers! The second is the culture in which the strategy is developed. This can induce a number of thinking biases which are known to produce poor strategies. So as well as looking (critically) at the strategy itself the change leader needs to understand the way it was produced to see how well it may, or may not work.

If a strategy is well worked out then it will make some predictions about the world in which the organisation operates. It is usually the need to adapt to these predictions that have precipitated the need to change the organisation and make the currently proposed changes. The change leader should track these predictions to see if the expected scenario is being realised, and by how much. It would be a very good strategy that predicts all future measures correctly. Then the differences may identify ways that the current change needs to adapt to the future as it unfolds. The level of uncertainty (risk) associated with predictions can indicate the level of commitment that the change team needs to make deliver relevant organisation outcomes.

This understanding can identify a timetable for making decisions about commitment to change and allocation of resources in the change programme.

Plan to change your change plan

Unlike a project, which tends to have a fixed plan, budget and deliverables, a change programme should include review points which enable both optimising development resources and opportunities to change direction. In the Managing Successful Programmes paradigm these review points occur in a cycle of tranches.

The tranche concept is simply a commitment to deliver a piece of the overall desired change; and at the end of delivery to consider the remaining work in the light of new information about the future and the impact of the changes so far. They allow optimising the development resources by only doing a detailed design for the next tranche; other design work is only needed to produce the level of information for a business case (which is no where near the depth needed to actually do the work). At the end of the tranche, the business case is reviewed to ensure the rest of the changes still make sense in themselves. The business case is then considered in the light of the emerging future and the current strategy (which may not be the same as when the original change programme was considered). The actual versus predicted strategic indicators will critical in determining if the current change is or continues to be aligned.

The end of tranche decision is one of those that needs timetabling and should be scheduled to align with strategic reviews. However the frequency of reviews of the business case and strategic alignment may be more frequent if there is considerable uncertainty in the strategy.

How does your change initiative manage the strategy context in which it fits? How do you track the development of predictions against reality and translate that into your change activities? Tweet us your comments @C4ChangeMgt.


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