There are cognitive biases built-in to the management culture of large companies and within management literature that is copied over and over again.
If one looks at the number of hours spent on discussions and reflections at management level on a company’s future, as well as on the amount of written pages about management theory, and one compares that with the number of hours and pages spent on planning, preparation and practical guidance in the implementation, there is an unfortunate imbalance.
An example: Suppose we have a company of 10,000 employees. We have 1,000 managers at various levels, of which 100 represents the top layer. Among those, 10 people are in the decision-making management group.
These 10 people are making decisions on a new long-term strategy, that the Board approves. The groundwork for the strategy consists of several years of discussions and analyses of the company’s operations, e.g. by a hired ‘super-consultant’. The bill from the consultant is 5 million SEK.
The strategy is presented to the rest of the top management, the 90 people who break it down in different work groups. Within the different areas analysis of processes, systems and organization is carried out. Specialized business consultants in I.T., operations, supply chain, etc. are hired to help. The overall consultant cost ends up at 2 million SEK, excluding the purchase of some new I.T. solutions.
Executing the strategy
After 6 months, it is time to start the roll-out of five new strategic initiatives based on the main strategy. The other 900 middle managers and staff of 9000 employees will begin a change journey.
And it is here the imbalance becomes apparent!
Unfortunately, in many cases a bumpy ride begins here. There will be widely-held doubts. Five strategic initiatives are led by five different project teams. Each team makes up its own implementation plan. Plans include launch events and training to get everyone on track. According to science, as well as our own experience, many strategic initiatives never become fully implemented. They run out of energy, the resistance is too great or it takes so long that the reality changes and it is not ‘worth’ continuing with.
Often, there is a lack of a few basic conditions required to be able to succeed. Here is a list of the three most crucial mistakes:
- No target analysis has been made of attitude and motivation perspectives. If project teams are not aware of the reality, they can’t prepare the right way.
- Middle managers are being involved too late, just a short time before the employees. Sometimes it happens at the same time, which is the worst possible strategy. Middle managers are the most important communication channel and change drivers. Consider them the most important asset.
- The fact that all people need time to catch up to understand, be motivated and feel that they themselves are in the driver’s seat is overlooked. Top executives might have had 3 years to prepare, but employees are expected to re-think and adopt in maybe 3 weeks, at worst 3 days.
The more qualified time that is spent on analysis, preparation and planning, the shorter the implementation period gets. The communication activities, the content and shape of them, the intensity – how recurring they are – have great significance for how employees feel and understand the change. Unfortunately, it is not enough with a PowerPoint presentation and a few workshops. What you invest in the preparation of the change journey, you will get back many times over in the end, both in terms of time and money.
Experience: 25 years working with change management
Personal mission: To take the fear out of change
Weapon of choice: The Symbal Change Model
Change anthem: Aerosmith, Dream on
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