Over the next months, Business change expert Nigel Batty explores the challenges organisations face when leading change management, drawing on his own vast experience in the field and including insight gathered from his peers in a series of discussions on the "BIE - Leaders in Transformation" Group on LinkedIn. He starts at the beginning with "The Vision Thing".
How often do we see an energetic, highly capable and well-meaning change project leader at the helm of a poorly defined project take the team away for a dynamic kick-off event, at the heart of which is an exercise for the project team to create "The Project Vision". The activity is creative and highly engaging for the team; the outcome is a suitably pithy and motivational expression of what the project team believes that it will deliver.
Job done? Not quite.
If it is not wholly owned by the sponsor and does not speak directly to how the outcome of the project will contribute to the delivery of the broader aims of the business, then it is a 'rogue vision'. Rogue because it only serves as a declaration of independence; putting the project in competition with 'the business' for everything from budget and resources to communications air-time and senior management attention.
HOW CAN A ROGUE VISION BE AVOIDED?
Here are just a few tips gleaned from 15 years of (sometimes painful) experience on the front-line of managing change.
BE CLEAR FROM THE OUTSET WHAT A VISION STATEMENT IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT
The Vision is a clear and compelling statement of the desired outcome of a change. It should not be confused with the business rationale (the case for change), the business case (return on investment) or the mission statement (how the change will be achieved). It is worth noting that the need for a vision statement applies to both elective (internally driven) and mandated (externally driven) changes. The rationale for the change may be different but the need to embed the change is the same and a clear expression of the desired outcome is critical for both.
IT STARTS WITH THE SPONSOR
If lack of active sponsorship is the first reason that business change projects fail, then surely the second is a project vision that is not aligned with the views of the sponsor or the needs of the business. The vision will become the point of engagement for the project team and stakeholders; but first and foremost it is a passionate expression of the desired future that the sponsor is committing to.
START AT THE BEGINNING
While the vision may be refined and expanded over time, it is a foundation stone that should be laid before initiation of the project per se as it determines the scale of ambition and therefore the kind of team that will be required to deliver the change. It is also the first point of engagement for recruiting the key stakeholders that will go on to form the steering and governing bodies for the project.
THE PROCESS IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE OUTCOME
If the sponsor is not to become a 'prophet in the wilderness', refining and validating the vision needs to be an inclusive process. There is much to be gained from the creative involvement of the project leadership and key stakeholders, although if (and only if) this process is led by and remains true to the original intent of the sponsor. It is also worth remembering that the creation of the vision statement is an emotional as well as an intellectual process. As such the visioning process happens best when facilitated in a way that is both intellectually rigorous and draws out the passion and commitment of all contributors.
FLEXIBILITY IS STRENGTH
One of the greatest benefits of a clear, unambiguous vision statement is its constancy, providing the 'True North' that maintains the alignment of the sponsor, the stakeholders and the delivery team as the project unfolds. Equally important is flexibility in articulation and application of the vision across the organisation. Different audiences will have different points of engagement depending on their location, level or function and thought should be given to how the vision can be expressed or amplified to resonate with the key audience groups in the engagement and communication planning process.
I hope that these tips are both thought provoking and useful for others who are involved in driving transformational business change. My grateful acknowledgement to Steve Lungley, Chris Proctor, Jerome Bertin, Julian Earl, Steve Clarke and Nic Vine; all of whom took the time to post their insights on our recent LinkedIn discussion on this topic in our BIELeaders in Transformation Group. If you have a point of view or experience to share in this area, the discussion is still open and I look forward to hearing from you.