Saturday, December 24, 2011
Strategic Planning Analogy #428: Changing Tires
Let’s assume there are two people driving along in a car. One is the manager and the other is his subordinate.
As they are driving along, the car suddenly gets a flat tire. After pulling off to the side of the road, the two of them just sit in the car doing nothing.
Finally, the manager says, “Well don’t look at me to change that tire. I like the current tire. It successfully got me everywhere I wanted for the last five years. I see no reason to give up on that tire and change it just because it had one little setback.”
The subordinate says, “Well don’t expect ME to change that tire. It’s not in my job description. It’s not a part of my bonus calculation. I’ll file a complaint if you force me to change it.”
So the two of them sat there by the side of the road for hours with that flat tire, even though there was a spare tire and jack in the trunk.
When a tire goes flat, you need to change it. Similarly, when a company’s current business model goes flat (stops working), you need to change it. Therefore, one might think that all one needs to do when business models go bad is to discover a new business model and a migration path and you’re done. Right?
Wrong. In the story, they had the equivalent of the new business model (the spare tire) and the migration path (the jack). Yet those parts just sat in the trunk not being used.
Why? Because nobody was adequately motivated to use the jack to put on the spare. The manager did not see the need for change and the subordinate did not feel personally responsible for making the change. If nobody wants to do the work, then having the parts is worthless. You’re stuck on the side of the road while the other companies pass you by.
Are companies really as silly about change as those people were with the flat tire? Well, consider research by McKinsey and Co. Scott Keller and Colin Price of McKinsey recently wrote a book entitled Beyond Performance. The book is based on research into thousands of executives at hundreds of companies. Here is what they found.
First, about 70% of change programs fail. In other words, most of those flat tires don’t get adequately fixed. That’s not good news.
Second, the primary reason why those change programs failed is not due to a lack of resources or plans. In other words, it wasn’t for a lack of spare tires and jacks that these change programs failed.
Instead, 72% of the failure could be traced to the people in the organization—nearly half of this amount to management failure to support the change and the rest due to employees resisting the change. In other words, most companies are very much like those people in the story. They sit by the side of the road in failure because management won’t support the change and employees resist the change activity.
The principle here is that “change” is an activity, not a concept. You can have the concepts of a new vision or a new strategy or a new business model. You can also have the concept of a plan to make that change a reality. But if equal effort is not also placed behind motivating people to act, you will almost surely fail.
Therefore, a strategist’s job is not done when the business model and migration path are devised. It is only done after equal effort is spent creating an internal environment capable of vigorously acting to bring about that change—quickly and fully. Otherwise, all you have done is put a spare tire and jack into the trunk and left the company sitting by the side of the road unwilling to use the tools you provided.
Getting Management Support
So how do you get management to embrace the need for change? There are several approaches.
First, you can try to get them to see that the status quo is truly broken and cannot be brought back to its former glory. In the story, the manager thought the flat was just a temporary setback for the formerly successful tire and that it would eventually bounce back up on its own like before. Therefore, he was not motivated to change that tire. Similarly, you need to show people that the flat is a major change in the condition of that tire. It will not return to its former glory on its own. It must be replaced.
Second, you can try to convince them that even if they liked that old tire, they’ll like a new tire even more. In other words, if you cannot convince them the old model has gone bad, then convince them that the new business model is so much better that it is worthy to change to get the improvement.
Third, you can appeal to their personal motivators. Most managers have something which drives them to reach the top. For some it is greed for money, for others it is greed for power, for others it is leaving a legacy, and for some it is leaving a mark which makes the world a better place. Whatever the motivator, tie it to the change. Tell them that if they make the change, they will get more money, more power or more whatever, than they had before. It’s sorta like telling a guy with a flat tire ,“If a guy puts slick new tires on his car, all the cute girls will want to ride with him.”
I’ve talked about ideas like this in more detail here and here.
Getting Employees to Make the Extra Effort
In addition to getting the managers motivated, you need to properly motivate the employees. It’s one thing for employees to do the minimum required for their position. But if you want to succeed in the transition for change, employees typically need to put in a much stronger than normal effort.
Keeler and Price refer to this as going beyond merely motivating through normal incentives to tap into “employees’ sense of meaning and identity to harness extraordinary effort.” This is effort which comes from deep in the heart.
This means transforming the change agenda from being “additional work” on top of the day-to-day to becoming “the greater work” which gives meaning to all of one’s efforts.
I’ve spoken about this topic in more detail in several other blogs, including this one.
A large part of strategic planning has to do with enacting change within the organization. The key roles typically given to strategists are to:
a) Help determine what to change into; and
b) Help determine the best path to get there.
However, research has shown that if that is all that is done, there is a high likelihood of failure. To ensure success, one must do more. One must also make sure that:
a) Management believes in promoting the change; and that
b) Employees are deeply motivated to give an extra effort to make it a reality.
Strategists need to help with these issues as well.
Changing a tire is not a glamorous job. You have to get your hands dirty. But the car won’t get moving again unless you change the tire. In business change, not all tasks are glamorous, either. But if you keep the big picture in mind, you can see that the messy jobs are essential if you want the big prize. So don’t shy away from getting your hands dirty by working on getting the implementation done.