Burning platform or burning ambition?

As organisations we do seem, rightly in my view, to be very pre-occupied with managing change well. There are a myriad of books, articles and words of wisdom on the topic. There is an element of change however which I think we need to pay more careful attention to and that is how we create an authentic Case for Change.


When there is a burning platform it is easier to bring about change. Most of the time there is general consensus that the platform is burning and that something needs to change. I do of course need to put a caveat onto this statement for those of us in the UK as it would appear that BREXIT is a platform that is burning while we continue to hold positions, divide our country and get no-where closer to a positive future for ourselves and our children. Perhaps I will be courageous enough to create a blog on that topic in the coming weeks – but putting local UK politics to one side for now – let me come back to navigating change within organisations.


We have worked with a number of organisations over the last two years where they have wanted to bring about significant change in their organisations – but the desire for change has not been driven by a burning platform. Their desire for change has been driven more by what we have come to call their burning ambition – a sense that they can do even better as an organisation, have more of a positive impact in the world or increase their ability to serve more customers. This has presented them with a significant challenge in articulating why the change is needed and what is in it for the people who work within the organisation. In response to this challenge we have created a process that enables the organisation to create and communicate the WHY by taking them through a journey to articulate the Case for Change in a way that is authentic and resonates with their people.


There are 3 key questions that we find it useful to explore when developing a Case for Change:


What in simple terms is your current state?

This is not as easy for organisations to answer as it would seem. It is critical that the Executive Team take the time to address this question and align on a few simple statements that capture the essence of the “today” picture. These need to resonate with people in the organisation – and often it will be the first time that people feel that they are heard and that the current context is honestly acknowledged. An example of this could be “we have land-locked expertise”. What a statement like this does is recognise you have expertise in the organisation, that people are passionate about doing a good job, and that you have not managed to free this up so that real sharing of expertise across departments and countries becomes possible.


What are the current strengths you have that give you the foundation for the future?

In order for this to be powerful it is key to conduct an audit on what you do well in a similar way and with similar precision as you would an audit on what is failing. Engaging people in this process so that they can articulate this between teams not only provides you with an incredible data base of existing best practice but also strengthens the connections between people without fuelling unhelpful internal competition.


What are your core measures of success?

Having aligned on the current state and strengths – being able to then articulate a short and clear list of Measures of Success is critical and while appearing straightforward is not. It is key to identify hard measures as well as measures based on perception and experience. Being able to directly link the change work you are doing with things like EBITA, or new client sectors secured or reductions in competitive share of market will ensure that everyone aligns behind the ambition you have.


So when you next embark on your organisational change journey – please ask yourself and your colleagues


Do we have a compelling Case for Change that is free of jargon and full of ambition?


This blog was written by Charles Irvine, Managing Director of Questions of Difference.

A conceptual futurist, affirmatively disruptive philosopher and organisational resultant