John Kotter writes about the critical stage early in the change process of building a sense of urgency. Organizational consultants advise that drivers for change (or dissatisfaction with the current state) needs to be high enough to overcome inertia and to move forward productively. Others talk about there needing to be a burning platform, an urgent and compelling situation, or a business case for change. Regardless of the terminology, the sentiment is the same. To have sustainable and impactful change, one needs to know why the change is being made. The why is imperative, and without it, the change will flounder.
Without the WHY, change can, will and should come to a STOP.
Recently, we were working with clients that were massively reorganizing their department structure. The team tasked with carrying out this work seemed to be in a perpetual search for the burning platform. Were they under-delivering against executives’ expectations? Were they doing the wrong work? Was there a cost-cutting or efficiency goal to achieve? Were they being asked to get ready for technological changes in the near future? The answer to these questions was simply yes, all of the above. The guidance from the project sponsors was vague, and they provided little additional detail, performance goals, or expectations for what should be different as a result of the project. After working for a few weeks with the client, we advised them to pause the project and not resume it until clarification on the business case for change was articulated and understood by both the sponsors and the team.
The following questions are ones we typically use to uncover the thinking of senior leaders and sponsors who want to launch a new program. Once we have satisfactory answers to questions like these, then we feel comfortable plotting a course of action and jumping in to help.
- What are the results you want? What are the results you are currently getting?
- What challenge(s) are you facing that seems to be beyond obvious fixes or solutions?
- What would Company/Department/Business Unit look like if you could effectively address this challenge?
- What are the consequences – now / future – if you aren’t able to address this challenge?
- What have you tried that has worked? What have you tried that did not work?
- Do you have a preferred solution already in mind? Are you open to alternative options?
- What decisions, if any, have already been made? What decisions do you retain the right to make throughout the project?
- What guideposts (budget, resources, deadlines etc) must the project team adhere to in their work together?
- What do you consider to be in scope for the project team in its work? What is out of scope?
- What are the constraints on the project or the desired outcomes?
What questions do you typically ask sponsors of change? What questions should you, as a leader, be ready to answer from the teams you manage?