|When Your Team Reverts to the Old Strategy|
Repositioning your company can be an invigorating move - it's exciting to take a fresh approach and go after new opportunities. But change is also risky and over time, the momentum behind it can wane. When that happens, it's not uncommon for individuals, units, or entire organizations to default to the old strategy. If your team relapses, how can you get things back on track and people re-focused on the new direction?
What the Experts Say
The reality is that very few strategic changes are successful. In fact, only 5% of large-scale changes actually work, according to John P. Kotter, Chief Innovation Officer at Kotter International, a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School. Therefore, the issue of regression is a common one.
The first thing you can do when your team begins to revert is understand the cause of the slippage. Both Kotter and Roger Martin, the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in Canada, say that most changes fail because we are working under flawed models. These models artificially separate strategy and implementation and assume that different people are responsible for each. Taking a different approach - one that doesn't disconnect execution from strategy creation - helps prevent stalls before they happen, keeps your team focused, and could put your organization into that elite 5%.
Start out right
The best way to prevent your team from reverting is to avoid the tendency to get your most senior people in a room to dictate what the rest of the company will do. Martin advises asking the question upfront: who will we need to behave differently? Then, make sure that those people have a say in the direction you'll pursue. "If you don't consult, widely and early, anyone in the organization that has to do something dramatically differently because of the change, you're taking a big risk," he says.
Build the urgency
A frequent reason that teams revert back to an old strategy is they don't feel the urgency to change. If your team is stalled, engage them. "Ask the employees what they would do to improve/modify/enhance the strategic direction so as to make it something in which they would have confidence - confidence enough to do something different than they have always done," says Martin. "Tradition is an unbelievably powerful force," says Kotter. They need to not only see the urgency of the need for a new strategy but also feel accountable for it.
Make everyone a choice-maker
Under the old models where "strategy" and "implementation" are separate, organizations are divided into two categories. Martin calls them "choosers" - those that make the decisions - and "choiceless doers" - those that are left to implement. When you treat people as "doers," instead of as the actors that they are, they feel their work is devalued and aren't motivated to do anything differently. As much as possible, push decision-making down. Martin calls it a "cascade of choices" whereby you let your people know that the new strategy implies that everyone has decisions to make.
Create a "guiding coalition"
Kotter suggests that all change efforts include a "guiding coalition" - a diverse, cross-functional, multi-level group with different skills and strengths. He warns that this is "not some dorky task force" but people who are excited about the change and ready and able to roll up their sleeves to drive it.
Remove barriers and share successes
Many regressions happen because people perceive a conflict between what they've been asked to do and the best interests of the company. Take a look at the barriers that may be standing in your people's way. For significant changes, you will likely need to alter IT systems, compensation models, and performance management metrics. An ineffective team or a non-collaborative culture can often be the biggest obstacle. Regularly ask employees what's stopping them from doing work in the new way and ask how they think they should be removed.
"Even good company people don't want to do what's not working," says Kotter. It's critical to share success as it happens. Find unambiguous and visible accomplishments that serve as evidence that you're making real strides.
Stick with it
Old habits are certainly hard to break. But to be successful with a new strategy, altering your routines is critical. "Take this new way of acting, hold it in place until it becomes habit," urges Kotter. When urgent business issues come up, it is all too easy to take your eye off the prize. Teams and individuals find comfort in an old strategy when crises come up. The best way to avoid this is to commit to staying focused.
Principles to Remember
- Push decision-making down so that everyone in the organization is making choices about how to act differently
- Think of creating and executing strategy as distinct tasks to be done by separate groups of people
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