Organisations don’t change. People change. People change one strategic conversation at a time.
Strategic conversations play a critical role in the execution of strategy and change as:
- Vision must be shared before it can be lived. This requires conversation.
- Employee engagement is driven by meaning and purpose. This requires conversation.
- Execution requires alignment of action and behaviour. This requires conversation.
How effectively are you leading strategic conversations in support of the execution of your strategy?
A strategic conversation “is the practice of managing a series of discussions leading to the commitment by people to take action aligned with the organisation’s most important priorities.”
It’s a leaders responsibility to actively shape an organisation’s strategic conversation. Unless conversations are consciously initiated and managed change will be difficult to initiate and sustain.
Why Strategic Conversations Stall
Well managed strategic conversation is how commitment and buy-in to change is initiated and sustained over time. This is because it’s conversation that creates the necessary involvement and it’s conversation that generates commitment.
When leader’s fail to manage strategic conversations people get stuck and execution stalls.
Stalled strategic conversation leads to failed change. So it’s important for leaders to identify the warning signs of stalled strategic conversation. These warning signs are as follows:
- People stop listening to one another. Discussions and debates become circular. It seems that everyone has run out of ideas. Everyone seems to be making the same points over and over again.
- People have an uneasy sense that they have missed a critical issue or concern. Or the they are missing important facts and information. As a result the conversation gets stuck in analysis paralysis, over-thinking and over-planning.
- People become fixed in their mindsets and thinking. Focused on reinforcing their position and point of view.
- People begin asking themselves, ”why we’re have in this conversation again?” and “did we not resolve this issue the last time we spoke?”
- People feel that they don’t have all the information and facts necessary to commit to a course of action.
Unless stalled conversations are resolved and unblocked change will fail.
Resolving Stalled Strategic Conversations
To assist in resolving stalled conversations the change formula is an indispensable tool. The change formula is a way of thinking through the critical factors that enable change.
The change formula describes the factors that must be managed for successful change which are as follows:
- D – Dissatisfaction with the status quo
- V – Vision of a positive future
- F – First concrete steps towards the future vision
If the multiplication of dissatisfaction, vision and first steps is greater than the resistance to change (R), then change becomes possible. The insight behind this formula is that if the value of any of the variables; dissatisfaction, or vision, or first steps is zero then resistance to change will not be overcome.
The change formula can be used to help diagnose and unblock stalled strategic conversation and reinvigorate change as described below.
1. Build Dissatisfaction with the Status Quo
A shared understanding of the status quo is essential to build a desire for change. Often leaders incorrectly assume that people share a common understanding of the challenges facing an organisation. Leaders who make this assumption don’t allow time for current reality, its challenges and implications to be discussed and debated in any meaningful way. This is a mistake.
When we rush through a discussion and assessment of the current reality the foundation required to initiate and sustain change is never established. Without making time to explore current reality, pain points and challenges people fail to develop an understanding of the need for change.
Here are some questions you can ask to assess how well you have developed a shared dissatisfaction with the status quo.
- Do you have the right people in the room discussing the status quo?
- Do all the people in the room have access to the information, evidence and facts relating to the problem? Has this information and data been shared and discussed?
- Have the people in the room who discussed the available data and shared their interpretation of the facts?
- Is there sufficient diversity of opinion and organisational functions to have a meaningful discussion?
- Do all the people engaged in the conversation have the same understanding of the problem?
- Have you shared and discussed tangible and specific examples, anecdotes and stories to illustrate the impact or the problem?
- Has the exploration of the facts, evidence and examples made those in the room dissatisfied with the status quo?
- Is the dissatisfaction high enough for people to initiate change?
2. Shape a Shared Vision of the Future
Once the dissatisfaction with the status quo has been nurtured and people are sufficiently dissatisfied you are now ready to begin conversations to explore future scenarios.
Jumping into discussions with the goal of developing a future vision too quickly is a common mistake. You will know it’s time to discuss future possibilities when people begin to feel frustrated with exiting conversations and with the progress being made. Now is the time to shift the conversation from the current reality towards future possibilities.
Here are some questions you can ask to assess how well you have developed a shared vision for the future.
- Does your vision of the future meet the ten characteristics of a compelling vision?
- Are all the people engaged in the conversation have a common understanding of what future success would look like?
- Have you explored alternative future scenarios? Have you considered each future scenario and its associated advantages and disadvantages?
- Have you answered the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) question for those who you need to be committed to the vision?
- Have you engaged people emotionally by creating an inspiring picture of the future?
3. Encourage Shared Agreement of the Next Steps
Now that you have a shared understanding of current reality and a future vision the conversation needs to shift to discussing the first steps that you need to take to move towards the future vision.
Here are some questions you can use to assess how well you have described the first steps:
- Is the gap between the current reality and the future vision small enough to be achievable whilst being large enough to make a meaningful impact?
- Have you developed a roadmap that describes the change journey?
- Are you clear as to what you need to achieve in the next 12 months?
- Are the outcomes described in S.M.A.R.T. terms? Are you clear as to what success looks like?
- Have you allocated sufficient resources in support of the expected outcome?
- Does each action have a single clear owner who is accountable for each outcome?
- Are you clear as to how progress towards the vision will be measured and tracked?
A simple and effective framework to help you resolve a stalled strategic conversations.