Sustainable change: 10 killer questions

It is hard to create large scale sustainable change in organisations.  You are up against ingrained cultural habits and assumptions, internal political interests and a lot of anxiety – and that’s before you think about the threats and opportunities beyond the organisation itself and the technical challenges involved.  If you are going to do it, you’ve got to give it your best shot.

When I ask organisational leaders whether they would like some help with sustainable change a frequent response is that it’s OK thanks, we have been doing a lot in that area and all is well.  Of course that will be true in some cases (and, of course, it will sometimes just be a polite way of asking me to go away!) – but the fact remains that I tend to be sceptical.  I think that for many people most coaching or consulting interventions, or work on strategy is all seen in much the same way as much the same thing.  I don’t think they are.  So here is my checklist for measuring how likely what leaders and organisations are doing is to be effective – that is, create major, long-lasting change and deliver significantly improved outcomes.  These ten killer questions are addressed to the organisation’s leader – the CEO, Bishop or Director.  This is not an exhaustive list, but it highlights the crucial bits that tend to be neglected or underplayed.

  1. Are you utterly committed to the change and determined to achieve the outcome required?
  2. Are you taking direct responsibility for leading the change you need in the organisation?  To the extent that it is prioritised over just about everything else – a fact reflected in your diary?
  3. Do you, at the same time, recognise that the content of the change needs be developed with and through others?
  4. Are you consciously working with a model of organisation and management and a model of change that is well-founded and credible?
  5. Have you and your senior colleagues recognised and embraced the near universal truth that any change needs to start with how you all behave and what you model?
  6. Have you found a way to involve the whole organisation, not just in understanding, but as partners in the change?
  7. Have you explored and reinterpreted at a deep level what the organisation exists for and believes in?
  8. Do you have a sufficiently clear picture of what a successful future looks like (a vision) – not as a series of targets but as a way to set direction and challenge assumptions?
  9. Have you and others squarely faced the facts about current performance?
  10. Are you prepared to keep going with the arduous process of planning, implementation, review until you get there, long past the point at which it ceased to be interesting?

If you can answer yes to all these questions you are in a very good place.  If you cannot answer yes to one or two your chances of success will be weakened.  More than that? – well I don’t rate your chances.  You can’t delegate this stuff, you can’t do it by halves and you need to take people with you.

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