Strategic Change Planning

Strategic Change Planning

Strategic Change Planning

Strategic Change Planning

George C. Marshal was the youngest of three children to a modest Pennsylvanian family. While a hard worker he was never the top student and did not have the grades to get into his dream school of West Point. Instead, he opted to attend the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) which led to his commission in the Army. Serving in a wide variety of positions Marshal got the full Army experience of battle in World War 1, logistics in the Philippines, and the bureaucracy of D.C.

As World War 2 began, Marshal found himself as the Chief of Staff of the Army with the mission to get America ready for war. At the time, the Army consisted of 189,000 poorly trained solders with outdated equipment. He then led a forty-fold increase in men and weaponry over the next three years.

In December 1943 President Roosevelt planned to have General Marshall lead the D-Day invasion. He knew this would have cemented his place in history as it did for Dwight Eisenhower. So much so that it eventually led Eisenhower to becoming President. However, Marshal turned it down knowing that Eisenhower was best served for that role and that Marshal could best serve by managing the home front. While that decision led to Marshal becoming the first 5-Star General in United States history, it is his humility that is remembered in wanting the right people to do the right job.

Strategy Equals Change, Change Requires Planning

New markets and strategic shifts typically create a VUCA Environment. These conditions are volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. While they are full of known unknowns that can be planned for, they are also full of unknown, unknowns. This stacks the deck against your organization in successfully implementing the new strategy. Failure to implement key pieces of the transitional planning directly leads to failing to execute the new strategy.

Employees may see significant or minuscule changes to their daily life with a strategic shift. Either way though, their actions must be in alignment with the shift. Ideally, they will be planning the operational side of the change. Operations planning deals with short time frames, but they will reflect important decisions as part of the strategic plan.

To accomplish this the organization must operate as an ecosystem and must move in unison. You cannot have parts moving in opposite directions and still have the strategy work. This alignment comes from transparency and engaging the whole organization into the planning process.

Planning Outside of the Boardroom

Researcher Amy Edmondson focuses on employee engagement in organizations. There she found that only three out of ten people believe their opinions count at work. The irony is that for change to successfully be implemented it must have the trust and engagement of the entire organization.

One key difference between companies and governments is that they provide trust via a decentralized platform rather than a centralized bureaucracy. As a mutual agreement, employees put their trust into an organization to associate with them. The organization in turn must trust the employee base to follow through with expectations. When changes to the organization occur, there must be an established level of mutual trust where the workforce trusts that the organization is making the right shift.

Even with trust, organizations find employees entrenched in frozen patterns. Change requires the organization to remove the support beams while the people are in the building and for them to believe that the building won’t collapse upon itself. It is uncertainty over whether an event is true disruption that forces established firms into a dilemma of change. The leaders’ goal is to earn the organization’s trust so they can lead them to weather the storm that strategic change creates.

Putting the Plan into Action

I preach a three phased change management approach that begins with aligning the leadership team to clarifying the vision and strategy. This helps cement the importance of the change and urgency to act. The phase closes with the development of a change roadmap that outlines the key milestones that they must accomplish for strategic implementation.

Next, phase two initiates with performing an impact analysis of the internal effects the strategy will create. This unlocks insights into the mitigating actions that need to be in place to overcome objections. The change team then plans out the change announcement and then delivers the message.

The first two phases focus on building a safe environment for the chaos of change, phase three focuses on engaging the workforce into the process. This begins with upward feedback sessions where the change is toughly vetted not only for understanding but for refinement. The organization then develops the change transition plan to implement the new strategy. The focus then shifts to achieving quick wins, overcoming obstacles, and completing the change plan.

Change Planning in the 21st Century

While shared vision is mostly the work of strategy charlatans, a shared vision can uplift people’s aspirations and give them purpose. People don’t want to shoot for number goals that have no impact on their life or the world they live in. Inspirational goals are ones that people can rally behind and realize that they can make a difference

The warning is that bad strategy flourishes in the world because it floats above analysis, logic, and choice. As an organizational leader you want to find the right balance to vision and practicality, this comes from merging executives with front line worker thoughts patterns. Miller Brewing mastered this by putting a bar in the central part of the plant where operations and executives could drink for free and collaborate.

When the change execution stages begin, embrace that the team is not made of robots that blindly follow orders. The whole team must be able to act and make decisions. Giving the team agency to drive the strategy and use independent judgement when issues arise. In a big changing world, a good strategy must have an entrepreneurial compound. It must embody some ideas into new combinations of processes for dealing with new risks and opportunities.

War of 1812

At the turn of the century in 1800 the United States was a young nation. Independence had been won from the British only a few years prior and the ink on the Constitution was not yet dry. America still viewed as an experiment instead of as a sovereign nation. Other countries showed hesitancy to officially recognize the United States.

Tensions with the England were still high after the Revolutionary War. The British Navy made a common practice of seizing American trade ships and forcing Sailors into British service. These raised tensions eventually to the point that led to America declaring war on Great Britain.

England at the time was engaged in the Napoleonic wars throughout Europe. They did not have a sizable army to dedicate to the war in America. However, their Navy aptly controlled the American ports and seas. A year into the war Britain was able to attack from the North via Canada.

The war had raged on for two years that included the burning of the White House. The fight of little brother against big brother proved to be an uphill battle for the Americans. National confidence was waning. It wasn’t until January of 1815 when Andrew Jackson led the United States in a staggering defeat over the British at the Battle of New Orleans. A relatively small victory of the British losing 2,000 troops compared to the Americans only losing 60 solders. However, the battle restored the national honor and led the country to believe that victory and transformation was possible.


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