Burning platform

Make important things important

Is the burning platform really necessary?

The point is that if something is to be made important, the acknowledgement must start much earlier than we would typically find natural, and we must appeal to both the brain and the heart.

Make important things important

The Roman senator and general Cato incorporated the words “Furthermore, I think Carthage must be destroyed” into every speech he held in the senate. Even though he kept repeating this, he apparently did not say it enough. Just like the message in this article cannot be said often enough, even though we have heard it all before.

Change needs to be important on a personal basis

The father of one of our colleagues had been smoking ever since he was a boy. He made it clear that his children were not to smoke, so rationally he had acknowledged that smoking is dangerous. Nevertheless, he smoked 30 cigarettes a day up until the day he suffered from coronary thrombosis at the age of 61. He survived and immediately stopped smoking. The example emphasises a key point in all change – that a change really needs to be important on a personal basis. Otherwise, it will not be realised.

The concept of importance is a central point in the book A Sense of Urgency written by one of our gurus, Harvard professor John P. Kotter. Strategic changes can, quite simply, only be executed effectively if a sufficiently large part of the organisation believe it to be sufficiently important. It is just as trivial as it is right, and it must be the very definition of a waste of time to devote attention to something that is not important.

When you communicate, you’ll reach a point where you get tired of listening to yourself – do it anyway!

Unfortunately, we often waste our time. An essential reason for this is the self-satisfaction which sneaks up on even the most skilled companies. Here, the worst thing we can do is to lean back and wait for the entire organisation, the family or whatever system we want to change to realise the seriousness of the situation. So, how do we make important things important?

First of all, we need to acknowledge that just because something is important to us, it is not necessarily important to everybody else. Here, it can be tempting to position ourselves as leaders who really make things happen. This is also OK as long as it does not turn into blind action. For instance, our colleague’s initiative of buying one year’s supply of nicotine gum to his father was, of course, done with the best intentions, but that alone would hardly be enough for him to stop smoking. The point is that if something is to be made important, the acknowledgement must start much earlier than we would typically find natural, and we must appeal to both the brain and the heart. We must also remember that we, in our role as managers, often have spent several months preparing for a strategic change. That which is important HAS become important to us, but when we then demand that the remainder of the organisation joins the ranks instantaneously, it is not only unrealistic – it is also unfair.

Thus, we have been pleased when several of Scandinavia’s well-known top managers have addressed the difficult market conditions and made an honest announcement at an early stage. Not about a diffuse crisis, but specifically about the need for reductions in the capacity. This affects both the brain and the heart and makes the important things important. Carthage was ultimately destroyed. But either Cato should have held more speeches or addressed the hearts of the other senators more strongly, for it was not until Hannibal had slaughtered 70,000 Roman soldiers at Cannae that what was important became important to others than Cato.

Carthage was ultimately destroyed. But either Cato should have held more speeches or addressed the hearts of the other senators more strongly, for it was not until Hannibal had slaughtered 70,000 Roman soldiers at Cannae that what was important became important to others than Cato.