posted 1 Sep 1999 in Volume 3 Issue 1
Breakaway Planning: 8 Big Questions to Guide Organisational
Mikko Arevuo of Principal of Delta Strategies Ltd. reviews the new book by Paul Levesque.
(Publisher: AMACOM, New York, 1998 Pp. 258)
Developing and implementing strategic change is one the hardest tasks that any organisation can undertake. In fact, a major international consulting firm's 'Planning Survey Forum' reported that between 1990 and 1994, an average company had committed itself to 12 of 25 currently popular management tools and techniques - from corporate visioning and TQM programmes to empowerment and reengineering processes. Despite the frenzy of activity, the study found no correlation between the number of change management techniques a company used and its satisfaction with financial performance.
Needless to say it was with some scepticism that I agreed to review Paul Levesque's 'Breakaway Planning' . 'Do we need yet another book espousing new tools on change?' - I asked myself with the 1994 survey results racing through my mind.
However, this is a book with a difference. 'Breakaway Planning' does not regurgitate the old change management theories. It does not make 'pointless consultant babble' statements such as 'in times of change it's critical that you communicate frequently with your organisation to keep everyone updated and reassured' and then failing to tell you how to do it. This is a sure way of making your eyes glaze over! Rather, Levesque boldly states that when it comes to implementing organisational change, there are hundreds of ways to do it wrong. Omit the senior executives from the planning, disseminate a drab mission statement, neglect the customer during the change process, mandate data collection but not data analysis, keep employees in the dark about what's happening etc. Only through careful and thoughtful planning can these hazards be eliminated.
The methods, techniques and how-to approach outlined in this book differ from conventional planning practice in its emphasis on structure and discipline. According to Levesque, the traditional impulse is to 'hurry up and get on with it', resulting in a high incidence of failure in implementing strategic change. The maxim of this book is to replace traditional planning with admonitions to take the time to do it right. At the heart of the book's planning approach is a fundamental article of faith: 'The greater the leaders' anticipation of success, the greater the likelihood of achieving it.' Hence, the book takes a top-down planning approach beginning with the leadership team. It defines what they can begin to do differently to help the change effort succeed, and through these actions, break down organisational resistance.
The book is the result of Levesque's experience with over 350 organisations from around the world that have participated in his strategic change planning workshops, or 'academies' as he calls them. It is built around '8 Big Questions' for the leadership team to address. The reader is provided with detailed three-stage process facilitation guidelines for each question, sample workshop agendas, and examples of organisations that have used this process to produce highly focused and specific 'how-to' action plans.
Organisations do not necessarily have to follow exactly the same '8 Big Questions' as outlined in the book. However, they do seem to cover most, if not all the critical factors that impact an organisation's success (see table at end of article).
Having worked through and developed specific action plans for each question, the discussion then looks at the process of creating a written plan for change, obtaining organisational buy-in for it, and the 'ins and outs' of plan implementation. This final section is highly methodological and specific in its process, and instructions on how to turn the plan into reality.
One area the book does not address is what happens when the leaders are not willing to embrace change or become ambassadors for change. Levesque assumes that a highly motivated and focused management team share equal dedication to the change process. One could always make a cynical observation that such companies are doomed for failure, or that such leadership teams will eventually be ousted by shareholders. 'Breakaway Planning' is not a road map for organisations with such leadership, as the heart of Levesque's thinking lies with visionary leadership and leading by example.
'Breakaway Planning' is not a book on intellectual capital or knowledge management as such. However, organisations exploring a culture that encourages intellectual capital formation and investment are faced with the need for monumental organisational transformation as they begin to build and understand the basis of their real competitive advantage. Therefore, regardless of whether the organisation's ultimate goal is to reduce cost, increase customer satisfaction, maximise market share, or create a completely new infrastructure for cultivating and sharing intellectual capital, 'Breakaway Planning' makes a valuable contribution by providing a comprehensive planning template for breakaway performance.
|1. How will
we, the leadership team, become ambassadors of change?|
Impose calm in the midst of upheaval, turn resisters into believers, and keep employees focused on the future of the organisation, the 'big picture' .
|2. How will
we spread the word internally?|
Articulate the organisation's mission, vision and values to stamp out cynicism. Supply regular information to the whole organisation to squash rumour mills.
|3. How will
we acquire and use customer data?|
Stop the board room game called 'Let's Compare Hunches'. Rather, gather solid and timely customer feedback, analyse the data and feed it back to the organisation.
|4. How will
we bring new employees up to speed?|
Recruit new people who fit the organisation's values and articulate the leadership's determination for optimism and success, so that the recruits become ambassadors for the new mission and vision.
|5. How will
we make things better for our employees?|
Identify and slay those dragons that rear their heads in needless processes, procedures and other time wasting activities that create obstacles for the employees.
|6. How will
we make things better for our customers?|
Understand where value is really being added in a customer relationship by mapping the imbedded value added components of the basic product, product support elements, and enhanced service - the 'wow' factor.
|7. How will
we measure our success?|
View measurement in a positive light as an indicator of success, rather than the Orwelian, 'we are here to check on you to see if you performing or not' type measurement systems.
|8. How will
we celebrate our success?|
Infuse a spirit of fun into the change process, and leading from the previous question, (7),using positive measurement tools, learn how to celebrate crisis solving and prevention, and how to recognise a job well done quickly and specifically.