Influential stakeholders: A radical idea for changing change management

Read books on leading organizational change or on change management and the path they outline are about the same:

  • Create the vision.
  • Make the plan.
  • Communicate it well and often.
  • Begin implementation and get some short term wins.

Go on from there. What we know is that most major change initiatives and strategic plans don’t work. From Kotter’s data in 1995 to a McKinsey survey in 2008, nothing has changed – only 30% of change initiatives succeed. With all the focus on change management by organizations over the decade why hasn’t this number improved by an order of magnitude? I think there are two main reasons:

  1. The problems we face are becoming increasingly complex and wicked. This means the current situation can be improved upon but not definitively solved. It also means that the ultimate definition of what makes an initiative “successful” is grey and getting more so over time.
  2. The techniques used to tackle these problems are fundamentally unchanged. There is a process to engage stakeholders and solicit their views. There is a review of performance and organizational trend data. A small group, with consulting support perhaps, uses this input to generate the plan. It’s circulated for comments, approved, communicated seemingly to all, and then execution begins. Sound familiar?

Rather than quoting Einstein, let’s just say we need to do something different. Radically different! We all know that incremental changes to this approach may result in incrementally better results. Boosting success from 30% to a crazy 70%, 80%, or 90% requires a fundamentally different strategic problem solving approach.

What could make it that radically different? In our work at Demosophia, here’s the one fundamental change that enables everything else:

The stakeholders (people whose lives will be different because of this work and who know the issues the best) collectively and collaboratively, co-create an understanding of the problem and a solution design to tackle it. It is not created by a small group in a smoke filled room and disseminated for comments. No. Everything is actually, truly, co-created by the stakeholders as equal partners in the process.

Research validates the importance of stakeholders not only participating, but influencing the outcomes for successful projects. Check out “Engaging the Community in Decision Making: Case Studies Tracking Participation, Voice and Influence” to learn more.

What does this kind of stakeholder engagement require? It requires both a process for dialogue, and a process for efficiently managing information from the dialogue in ways that respect each individual and their contribution fully, and prevent people from being overloaded with too much in their head at one time. If this is done well, then all the things experts espouse as needed for good change management and can’t quite get are created:

      • A vision – created as the collective vision of the stakeholder’s, not handed down from the “leaders”
      • A plan – developed by people closest to the situation with the most information and the most at stake
      • Aligned communication – done by people who understand the same thing and can use their own language to explain it to their peers
      • Understanding and ownership – enables and energizes people to make a difference

When have you engaged stakeholders so that they not only participated and had a voice, but they influenced the outcomes of both planning and implementation? What were some of your successes and frustrations?

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