“It’s not enough for people to intellectually understand that an organization must start moving in a different strategic direction. People need to be motivated.” Chip Heath
A key element of any significant business change is a clearly articulated and compelling case for change. Unfortunately, this element is often neglected, leading to a poor rationale for change and limited stakeholder motivation.
When preparing for a change initiative, the easiest thing to do is assume that stakeholders understand what’s currently broken. It’s even easier to assume that stakeholders all believe that the future looks brighter than the present. In some cases this may be true, but do all stakeholders see the present in the same way? Do they all think that it can change? And further, does each individual have the same vision of the future and its benefits?
Why is a case for change important?
A compelling case for change is a structured means of aligning stakeholder perspectives on what needs to be improved within an organization, why it should be improved and how to improve it. A compelling case for change ensures that everyone involved shares one vision for the future and understands its benefits.
Below is our equation for the conditions that need to be established and maintained to enable change. Leaders can also use this formula to test the validity of a case for change. In short, if a case for change is valid, the proposed change must outweigh the emotional and financial cost of implementing it.
How do we define and evaluate the case for change?
- Identify the need for change
Garner existing performance metrics, seek stakeholder consensus on quantitative and qualitative information, and develop clear messaging about why the current state must be improved. Collect specific war stories and personalize communications to address the “what’s in it for me” factor. The belief that “we cannot go on as we are” is a powerful force in motivating people to change.
- Define the vision of a better future
The case for change must clearly describe a compelling future state vision, how it will look and feel, and what the benefits to the organization will be. It needs to clearly define objectives and outcomes for the organization and identify metrics to quantify success. Understanding your organization’s readiness to move towards the future vision is also critical here. Are your stakeholders suffering from change fatigue, are they ready and willing to change the current state or do they fall somewhere in between? Conducting a readiness assessment will help you determine your organization’s ability to move towards the future vision and inform the path that your organization takes to get to there.
- Capability to Change
Change will only succeed if you have engaged and committed senior leadership with the right capabilities needed to drive the change forward and enable success once the change has happened. A common mistake in developing a case for change is underestimating the leadership challenge, including the role leadership needs to play, the benefits they must demonstrate and their buy-in to the change.
- Evaluate Costs: Emotional, Personal and Financial
Even the most compelling case for change will have risks and issues that require mitigation. Address the costs of change by recognizing key barriers and deploying the right levers or actions to ensure that staff are equipped and supported to change. Consistently revisit the ‘what’s in it for me’ question and ensure that personal concerns are understood and addressed. Outline the true scope and scale of resources required as well as allocation of sufficient funding.
Is your case for change compelling? Apply the following tests:
- Does it outline the push (change rationale or burning platform) and pull (vision)?
- Is it motivating on both a logical (heads) level and on a emotional engagement (hearts) level?
- Is the case for change created and owned by those impacted, particularly leadership?
How do you structure your case for change? What has or has not worked as you’ve prepared for a change initiative within your organization?