Make change meaningful

Action as a means of communication

Initiate action early in a change process

The burning platform is a core concept in classic change management. The analogy originates from an oil drilling rig that caught fire, and where the only survivors were those who defied all regulations and leapt off the platform into a foaming sea 40 metres below. When asked afterwards why they had jumped, they answered that they felt they had no alternative.

Action as a means of communication

A couple of years ago, a knowledge-intensive Scandinavian company surveyed its employees' familiarity with the company's strategy and the extent to which they agreed that the strategy had been implemented.

The responses could be grouped into three well-defined categories. Those who believed that the strategy was both familiar to all and implemented, those who were familiar with the strategy, but did not think it had been implemented, and finally those who were not familiar with it and, thus, were not qualified to comment on its implementation.

The first group was top management. The second consisted of the members of the project group which had been responsible for developing and implementing the strategy. The third group included, by and large, all remaining employees in the company - and this is not a joke!

The burning platform

This example brings us to an interesting point in relation to the burning platform, which is a core concept in classic change management. The analogy originates from an oil drilling rig that caught fire, and where the only survivors were those who defied all regulations and leapt off the platform into a foaming sea 40 metres below. When asked afterwards why they had jumped, they answered that they felt they had no alternative. In a positive sense, this is the situation we ideally want to create in any change project. When everyone can see that there is only one way to go, you ensure both the direction and pace of the project - or do you?

In an ideal world maybe, but not in reality. Therefore, we will venture to challenge the sequence and scope of the built-in logic: take no action until a "sense of urgency" prevails throughout the organisation. Above all, it is utopian to believe that it is possible, all in one go, to instil exactly the same picture of what is important throughout the organisation. Change projects have come to a standstill before they ever got started on that account.

There are situations where action is the most direct or only viable way of creating awareness and changing attitudes. Within e.g. Lean, there are many examples of small simple activities having created tangible pictures of the potentials offered by change and, hence, of having acted as a catalyst for the subsequent roll-out across the entire organisation. Conversely, there are plenty of examples of companies agitating for, threatening and appealing for change incessantly for years without even remotely achieving the same effect.

When you initiate action early in a change process, you'll be accused of not having done your analysis thoroughly - do it anyway!

Finally, a "reverse start" offers a far more reflective approach to the concept of importance. Certainly, importance is a precondition for success, but the path to it is winding, and there will undoubtedly be many different perceptions and explanations of what is important. Here, it is crucial to make room for doubt and, thus, make change meaningful to as many as possible.

We know it sounds trivial, but it is vital to seek and ensure appreciation of the importance of change - in the organisation and among all involved. Not top management's explicit priorities, nor a "burning" necessity, but purely and simply the individual's understanding that what we are talking about really matters. This often entails what we will have to modify what we are focusing on and talking about.

The good news is that our focus will probably be more "right" in relation to the organisation's strategy, mission and vision, and the best news is that what we end up focusing on stands an excellent chance of actually being implemented.