For many years, I have facilitated large group consulting projects with 40-60 executive leaders and change agents in ongoing meetings. The goal was to redesign the customer experience and implement the customer vision and strategies with the cooperation of all key players. These were usually organizations with 30K+ employees. I thoroughly enjoyed the work.
Daniel Goleman describes a situation in his article “System Blindness: The Illusion of Understanding” concerning publishers and how they were “stuck” in their old model of operating until all the key stakeholders were brought together to solve this problem.
There are several key elements that are required in my experience to make this successful:
- All the key stakeholders need to be present and willing to explore the exact nature and definition of the problem. This definition is through their own view of the system, and each needs to be able to broaden their view to look at the problem from a systems perspective.
- Politics will come into play without a doubt. Increasing awareness and working with the political agenda directly is key to success. The various points of view need to be acknowledged and validated before people can move on to looking at the bigger picture.
- Evaluate the current business model – where revenues and profits reside, and where there is waste and entropy in the system. And, understand how performance is evaluated for the organization, department and the person. Some of the “off line” work is to help the stakeholders renegotiate and re-evaluate how performance is measured, as in the example in the article where the publishers had to recalibrate ad rates for their customers.
- Bring in new technology and develop a solid business case for implementation. As noted in the article, many organizations are still operating with decades old technology because the cost and understanding of the value of levering new technology is not clearly understood or explored. Many organizations are increasing productivity and cutting costs – and they are your competitors.
- Cultivate a willingness to be open to new ideas and inquiry. Some people are naturally inquisitive and challenge the status quo and associated assumptions. New employees are particularly good at viewing a situation with fresh eyes, but don’t forget the long term employees. Many have dealt with systemic problems so long they have resigned to feelings of powerlessness. Re-energize them with your leadership, vision and most importantly, follow through.
As I worked with these groups, the path to go forward was not always clear. The willingness of the stakeholders to stay engaged during a chaotic stage – when old assumptions are being questioned, where certainty does not seem all that certain anymore, and people seem at odds with the way forward – this is the time when it is ripe for breakthroughs and innovation. It is out of this “messy” stage that new solutions have the space to arise and solidify.
Keep in mind: the first thing that the farmer does in the spring is till the soil, so that new seed can penetrate and grow. It is during this “turning over” process that new ideas can surface and stakeholders can start to visualize their responsibilities in a new way.
- Marijo Puleo, PhD. Make Change Positive