Issue 1 of the Digital Transformation that Endures Blog Series by Mark Gradwell
All great leaders, past and present, share common traits: their change vision is easy to comprehend; they surround themselves with the right people to drive the change; they are great storytellers convincing others about the need and personal benefits of change; and they demonstrate courage and tenacity in managing stakeholders and challenging situations.
One of my first memorable exposures to a leader who drove and delivered an amazing vision was around the Ryder Cup. I’m an ardent sports fan and a keen golfer, and with the Ryder Cup soon upon us, I look forward to another titanic struggle between Europe and the USA. This wasn’t always the case. In my youth, this event was a non-contest until an inspiring captain, Tony Jacklin1, stepped up with a compelling vision for the European team. He recruited the charismatic and swashbuckling Seve Ballesteros as his chief change agent. The result was a complete transformation in European team fortunes and a bi-annual event that has captured the imagination of people around the world. The planning and execution of that vision didn’t happen overnight. It also wasn’t successful because of one person’s efforts, but a broad commitment to that vision.
Vision Success Starts with Contemplating the End State
Stephen Covey, in his acclaimed book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” encouraged us to start with the end in mind, asking a very simple question: “Who do we want to be when we grow up?” This simple question is equally relevant for an organizational leader when they are creating a change vision for their organization and it’s a question we ask our customers when we run our strategic planning workshops. John Kotter2 , describes a great change vision as “something that is easy for people to understand. It can be written usually in a half page, communicated in 60 seconds, is both intellectually solid but has emotional appeal, and it’s something that can be understood by the broad range of people that are ultimately going to have to change.”
By starting with the end in mind and establishing a change vision, it provides you as an organizational leader with a North Star to lead change, and provides the genesis for strategy design (how you accomplish your vision) and the underpinning critical success factors, KPIs and supporting transformation initiatives. It’s important that the change vision is specific to the large-scale change that an organizational leader is looking to make and shouldn’t be confused with a generic corporate vision which describes a picture of timeless values or principles required for long term prosperity.
Drafting a Change Vision
To build the draft change vision, there are three key questions that leaders should ask. The first question is “Why do anything?” Ideally this should be supported by data, as this will facilitate fact-based conversation regarding the need to change and we all know it’s difficult to argue against facts. Thinking about “Why do anything?” from a personal perspective helps build empathy and is key in helping individuals understand the need for change as well as helping influence and obtain stakeholder buy-in. The second question is “Why now?” Answering this question provides a sense of urgency and builds momentum, supporting immediate decisions around operating models required to help drive the change. The answers to the first two questions helps frame and support the “What do you want to become when you are older?” question. By going through this process of asking three simple questions you should be able paint a vision of the future, provide compelling reasons why changes are required, and create a sense of urgency as to why the change needs to happen.
Once the draft change vision is developed, a common mistake made by IT organization leaders at the start of large change programs is to assume that the road ahead is clear and that all stakeholders will be quickly aligned and on-board with the vision and the operating model needed to successfully achieve the desired end state as soon as they hear about it. However, a program that starts smoothly with high levels of enthusiasm and engagement upon initial presentation can quickly be derailed with miscommunication and politics between stakeholders who have differing expectations and understanding of the desired end-state. This is where the problems begin, and if not addressed quickly will result in failure.
Turning Vision into a Team Sport
Getting stakeholder input and buy-in is key to creating a Common Change Vision and will help unify the change coalition and mitigate resistance. Once you have arrived at your draft change vision, it is important to seek feedback from influential leaders, some of whom may not be part of the formal organization. Much like a professional golfer seeks the opinion and guidance of a seasoned caddie, they always make the shot themselves. Conducting stakeholder analysis will help establish people of influence, and in today’s digital world there are tools that can help automate this process.
Seeking feedback in a group setting and being prepared to listen are important as leaders don’t like to be coerced or told what to do. It is important that core leadership takes ownership for creating the initial draft of the change vision, rather than engaging key stakeholders with a blank piece of paper and inviting input or delegating responsibility for creating the vision. Articulating common interests and challenges during discussions and taking group feedback is vital to making changes to the draft vision. Make sure to ask individuals for their experience and data points to back up the vision. Reaching a point where key stakeholders believe that your draft change vision has their fingerprints on it is a good indication that you now have a Common Change Vision.
Common Vision for the Win
The Common Change Vision is the first step towards enduring transformation. “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a first step” and it’s important that you and your team take that first step in the same direction towards your agreed destination.
Back to the story of the Ryder Cup. Jacklin was appointed Ryder Cup Captain in 1983 and went about painting his change vision for the future of the European Ryder Cup team. He executed his strategy and drove far-reaching changes for Europe by entering the world of “champagne, cashmere and Concorde.” By 1987, the British Ryder Cup team had won the Cup on European soil and on American soil at Muirfield Village. In 1989, Jacklin retired having retained the Ryder Cup – his change vision achieved and the Ryder Cup competition elevated onto the world stage.
As you think about the goals for your IT organization, don’t shy away from change or vision. If you approach it as a team sport, you will not be alone but surrounded by key stakeholders committed to the effort’s success. Next month, I will share how vision turns into action.
1 “Tony Jacklin CBE – Official Website | Ryder Cup Captain.” Tony Jacklin CBE – Official Website | Ryder Cup Captain, tonyjacklin.com/.↩
2 Kotter, John. “How to Create a Powerful Vision for Change.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 6 Feb. 2013, www.forbes.com/sites/johnkotter/2011/06/07/how-to-create-a-powerful-vision-for-change/#106c1b3e51fc.↩