How do you create a burning platform for change when you are one of the most consistently profitable actors in your industry, over multiple decades? This was the core challenge for one of our clients in the heavy industrial sector. There was a general awareness of the need to radically change the ways of working connected to future disruptive technologies and customer behavior shifts. In fact, we found strategy reports from close to a decade back investigating what would be required. None of the reports could provide exact solutions mind you, these problems were of a complex nature; but showcasing a direction and a set of capabilities the player would need to remain successful. There were even small uncoordinated initiatives, isolated islands, working toward this direction throughout the organization.
Still, the transformation hadn’t happened yet. The consistent success proved to be a major barrier to change. The inertia created by a very successful way of working in the current paradigm hadn’t yet been managed to be interrupted. In fact, they just had their most profitable year in over a century, and our client found it quite difficult to create a common change direction when everything was still going well. Nevertheless, the changing paradigm was coming closer.
What we did – diverse strategic perspectives
Forming a guiding coalition to create a seed for the transformational intent. The first step in solving this gordian knot, was finding key actors in the organization. They needed to be brought together. A group of stakeholders who could more clearly feel the need for this transformation, due to their position in the organization or exposure to the market development in other fields. Our goal here was to synthesize their thoughts and create the seed for a transformational intent.
Using trigger materials to refine the intent iteratively in workshops
A second step was working iteratively with the top management group. Top management’s function is not usually to collaborate on complex questions like this. One of the findings from our research at Influence together with the Stockholm School of Economics is the requirement for a common task and goal for a group to be effective, which is quite different from typically acting as a representative of a function. Simply coming to a group like this with open questions is not the way to go forward productively. Rather, we used sets of trigger materials to refine the transformation intent as top management could react to synthesized proposals that pushed the conceptual boundaries in workshops and iterations.
Creating a clearly visualized idea of the direction
What if we create an idea document for the transformation for top management to sign. What should such a document for a transformation contain? It will naturally depend on the transformation in question, but there are some key components. A clearly visualized idea of the collective understanding of the direction of the transformation. An understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, to be leveraged and bridged in the transformation. An approach for how to go about driving the transformation – in this case, from strong principles and with a navigating approach based on a central transformation office that accelerates change brought on by efforts of the line organization.
The process of creating this idea document has been enough to get the snowball rolling. Top management was successfully mobilized to initiate the transformation, a multi-year initiative involving multiple functions. The transformation office has been formed and has begun shaping the transformation, involving more and more of the organization – guided by the strategic intent of the idea document.
In a nutshell, strategy is about creating actionable direction. A process that requires gathering the right people – with the right competences, perspectives and mandate – and talking, in what the research identifies as an intelligent way about the right questions. In this case, it is about the direction, not the exact details, or we would be stuck trying to perfectly nail down an unknowable future, paralysis by analysis. The outcome was a strong representation about the direction and creation of the initial momentum necessary to break through inertia and get the transformation started. In the words of our client: When we look back, this might well have been the seed to the organization’s future success, the next 50 years.