March 7, 2024

The Art and Science of Change Part 2 (TPL Insights #212)

By Rob Andrews

by Gary Skarke and Linda Wilson

Winning the Game – Fast Forwarding the Vision and Strategy

This post addresses the often abused but usually underused notion called Vision. When we play games – as kids and as adults – we generally try to win, whether it’s Monopoly, The Hunger Games, competitive online games, or football. In each game, there is a target – owning properties with high rents that bankrupt unfortunate players, outwitting other competitors in unbelievably difficult situations, outplaying other virtual players in an online game, or scoring the winning touchdown. Successful players in these games have a clear picture in their heads of what it takes to win.

Similarly, organizational players need to have a clear picture – a Vision – of what they would “look like” when they’re winning. If leadership doesn’t have a singular, clearly communicated Vision about the game they’re playing and what it takes to win, people are likely to have their own independent visions (or best guesses) about the “company game,” how to play it and what equates to a win. Rarely are these visions totally similar.

Vision establishes the game that the organization plays in the marketplace. Vision is both art and science. The creative development of a clear, compelling Vision is the art part…and the logical development of the strategy for how, specifically, to accomplish the Vision is the science part.

Here’s an example of what happens when the art and science of Vision are in play: A football team and the coaches work long, hard, and sometimes painful hours to develop their gameplan for each week’s opponents. They practice until key plays are ingrained in everyone’s mind. They have a clear Vision of the game, their team roles, and their individual responsibilities. Even if a clever opponent brings some surprises, players can still make the necessary adjustments to advance down the field toward the goal line.

The ultimate target is winning games. The science involved in winning is represented by the playbook…and the art is in the way those plays are sequenced and executed, under varying conditions. In reality, as in football, not everything goes according to plan. Opponents develop brand new defensive strategies…and competitors develop new product and service lines. The beauty of the clearly defined Vision is that people are able to make quick adjustments when the operating environment changes. And they can do it without a lot of retrenching to figure out how they should react. They can handle necessary adjustments to strategy because they all still see the same ultimate target.

Can you imagine a Superbowl-caliber team needing to call a “timeout” to ask the coach what to do every time the defense lines up in a different formation? Not likely. Can you imagine the coach’s response to a quarterback explaining his fifth interception? “But Coach, the wide receivers were unsure about their job responsibilities.” To win, it takes a coach who can create great plays before each game and an informed team that can execute winning plays on game day, when it really counts.

An organizational Vision paints a future picture of your products/services, the markets you serve, your relationships with customers, your people and their skills, the way work is performed, the technologies you use, the financial goals you’re pursuing, and the overall environment in which this “picture” exists (your culture). A Vision describes results of strategies that are executed by different players in the organization in future performances.

A good Vision goes a long way…quickly. One of our clients, owners of an industrial technology business with a wide variety of craft workers, remarked that they could see a visible difference in how people were doing their jobs just one month after they had begun clearly communicating their newly articulated Vision for the business. Workers were beginning to make better decisions – on their own – based on a shared understanding of how they needed to interact with customers and supply products and services.

Is your Vision “playable” by every employee? Do they understand the game you’re in? Can they score a touchdown, even on a broken play? The teams that can are the teams that will most likely win in the marketplace. It takes liberal doses of both art and science to achieve winning results.

We frequently work with organizations who have agreed to merge but have yet to flesh out the vision of the combined organization.  A consensus around the collective Vision and values is required, which is difficult and time consuming.  Such is the reason 80% of mergers/acquisitions fail to meet their targets.

Imagine that your company’s vision is played every day like a movie on the big screen for your shareholders and customers. Based on the plot line, employees write their own scripts to perform in your movie. To give their best performances, employees work on their own iPhones — pausing, stopping, rewinding, editing or fast-forwarding, and directing themselves, in concert with other performers, to award-winning performances.

Closer to Hollywood than we might like to think, organizations produce daily epics that express how they live, eat, and breathe in the marketplace. The big question: Would you give tickets to your production to shareholders and customers?

Vision is an art as well as a science. The creativity of developing vision is the art. Science is the strategy—how to make the vision come alive.

The stage treatment is the short but vivid version of the organization’s vision – compelling enough to entice shareholders to invest. The direction of the movie is more of a science – knowing what will work and what won’t work based on many other movies. It is the coordination of the actors to create a coherent, integrated story.

When we get ready to make the movie, we have different groups rehearsing their parts separately. Toward the end, these different groups converge on full dress rehearsals as they prepare to finalize their activities.

For final filming, the individual parts come together in an integrated way and live the vision.

Lights, Camera, Action: A Plan for Change

Implementation is generally the phase that has the highest failure rate – usually around 80%. Implementation is also one of the biggest challenges for CEOs. So there is plenty of room for improvement in this area!

Taking action has traditionally been in the program management and project management arenas.  PMs have proven methodologies, tools, and techniques to execute successfully when such elements are used by experienced professionals.  Program managers focus on what projects need to be in place to achieve certain business outcomes.  Project managers make sure the projects meet deadlines, budget targets, and deliverables.

Program managers are more of the artists, while project managers are more of the scientists. Program managers are the chefs, who decide the menu based on expected customers and their appetites and taste preferences, and project managers are the cooks who make the food based on the recipes.  Both activities need to be performed well for the best outcome.  You can have a great menu, but if it isn’t prepared and delivered well, then you will have dissatisfied customers.  If the menu is poor, but well-cooked, then you may not even have any customers visit the restaurant, because they looked on the website and failed to find an appealing menu. Both result in poor performance for the restaurant.

The executive sponsor along with the steering committee typically set priorities, allocate resources, and resolve issues that cannot be resolved at lower levels in the organization.  One CEO was a hands-on leader focused on transforming his organization.  He had a definitive, detailed vision, aligned goals and objectives, and was very involved in implementation of SAP along with transformed roles, organization structure, processes, and metrics.  We put in place a Steering Committee composed of executive managers (VP level); however, they were not “getting it” quickly.  Therefore, we initiated a second, higher level Executive Committee (chaired by the CEO) who did “get it.” If agenda items were not resolved or acted upon by the Steering Committee within 24 hours, the issue was escalated to the Executive Committee.  We also had access to the CEO daily, even if it was for 15 minutes.  And the organization quickly became aware of that level of involvement.  It helped mobilize the organization, and the transformation was expedited because of that implementation leadership.

Milestone or means metrics (such as meeting deliverable target dates) are used to assess progress towards a project delivery.  Outcome or end results metrics are used to assess the achievement of business goals and objectives.

We would be delighted to discuss your change initiatives and see how they can be even more successful.