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Strategic change, creating a movement

While at university I read a book by Joel Barker, a business futurist from Minnesota, which included a great insight on change:

  • Vision without action is merely a dream
  • Action without vision just passes the time
  • Vision with action can change the world

So true. I see so many people changing things without a clear vision, leaving those around them in a state of confusion and misunderstanding. This is probably a more common scenario than people having a clear vision and failing to act but I also see this happen, especially in big business, which often results in inertia.

I’m lucky in my career to have been thrown into roles where there wasn’t a clear path to the future with people around me waiting to have something to believe in and work towards and, ultimately, to be on a collective journey moving towards its destination.

I’m sure my legacy in most of of the businesses I’ve worked for will be the “man who put the strategic plan on a page”. It’s common for businesses to spend forever devising a vision “strapline” only to put little thought into the workstreams, skills and resources that will get them there. They fail to describe what the output looks and feels like, underpinned by behaviours people can aspire towards. Most businesses also take themselves too seriously. Their plans are dull, too complicated and use language that alienates 99% of the people they are trying to inspire. Oh, by the way, profit is an output not an input of the plan.

People don’t just work to get paid, they turn up to be part of something bigger than the day job – but you have to help them believe. You have to be the one to take the first steps that make it acceptable to do something different. If you watch “Lone Nut” on YouTube, this is me in my organisations. The “Lone Nutter” is looking for first followers and, once you have those, you can get to the exciting part. Getting people involved in what the future may look like, painting it so vividly they can see it and feel it, this envisioning is key to getting people to understand if change is worth their energy and time. After all, in business you can’t do this alone.

Strategic change isn’t a side project it’s about being clear on the things you will do and, more importantly, the things you won’t. It comes from creating a compelling reason to be different rather than being hounded into change by one of your competitors. It comes by having a clear action plan to get there and, most importantly, create a vision that generates a force so powerful it inspires a movement that lives and breathes through every corner of your business. 

Creating a movement needs momentum and this requires effort, energy and excitement. Strategic change isn’t easy but, if you create the right culture, skills, resources and incentives and deliver them in the right sequence (see Knoster Model below), change becomes invigorating and thrilling not just for you but for everyone engaged in the organisation – inside and out. You don’t need me to tell you a focused and engaged organisation delivers more – more enthusiasm, more determination, more passion, more sales, more profit. Fact.