Keeping change strategic

Strategic focus and effective communication

strategicAlignmentCorporate business consultants are discovering that effective management requires a continuous focus on the strategic objectives of the organisation. A paper in the MIT-Sloan Management review recently makes this point for  effective learning by employees. I am interested in strategies for improving the effectiveness of individual learning in organisations and this paper makes good sense.

The same is true of change: a strategic focus will increase the level of success of a change initiative (benefits described in the business case delivered on time and within cost). A strategic focus has two distinct advantages for successful change in an organisation: choosing which initiatives to resource for success; and setting out a framework for effective communication.

Strategic focus for resource allocation

No change initiative is going to be successful if it does not have adequate resources. One of the purposes of a business case is to identify the resources needed for a change and build up a cost profile. This means not all the proposed change initaitives in an organisation can be allowed to proceed. A rigourous process of proposal review and resource allocation leading to decisions is required. The mechanism is very simple.

  1. Proposals for change are put forward in a business case.
  2. Each business case is priotised by its alignment and impact on the corporate strategy.
  3. Proposals are allowed to proceed in priority order until there are no more resources available for change (the rest of the corporate resources are used to do business as usual).
  4. Existing active initiatives can be stopped if a higher priority initiative comes along and requires their resources.

So the strategic focus for a change initaitive is essential to obtaining the resources needed for success. Since authorisation is mostly based on strategic priority there is no incentive to under-estimate required resources in the usual business case game. Strategic focus is usally measured through benefits delivered by change which are directed at strategic objectives.

Strategic focus and communication

Once an initiative is authorised to start the role of efffective communications is very important to the success of people change. This is an area that is often poorly executed and contributes to a significant level of failure in change. I have found that a cascade of communication is an effective approach. At the top is the vision for the change initiative and cascading from this are more detaild and more audience focussed messages. A very useful tool for crafting a message or communication is the Message House method. Again this is not rocket science, but the result of hard learned experience synthesised into a useful tool. The basis is a simple construction to generate a message and especially to maintain alignment amongst messages.

message-house-template-screenshot-400px1The format is built around a template (you can download it from the Message House website). A message is built up from from the following components:

  • A title to explain what the message is about.
  • The audience of the message.
  • Why it matters: why is this change of interest to the audience. This will be the place to make the link to the corporate strategy and how the audience can contribute to that strategy by their own actions.
  • What we offer: also known as ‘what’s in it for me?’, this is our carrot to encourage a positive, active contribution.
  • Response to critics: get your retaliation in first and deal with possible criticism or negative impact of the change.
  • Call to action: what do you want to happen and how can your audience make a difference by their own actions.

Its a very simple format, but it contains all the key ingredients of an effective change communication and none of the surperflous dross. It also contains the basis for generating a hierarchy of aligned messages, as described in the method.

Of course, a strategic focus assumes you have a strategy. If you haven’t a strategy then you don’t know where you are going; so there is no point in doing change to get there. In this case you are one of the lucky organisations that can just get on with making money and not bother with all this change stuff. Good luck with that.

twitterHow good is your strategic focus and how well do you use it? Contact us through twitter or respond to this blog.

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