Initiating a Strategic Change Process

29 Aug Initiating a Strategic Change Process

By Matthew M. Thomas, COO / Senior Design Partner at Design Group International

© 2017

Businesses struggle for a variety of reasons, and often strategic change can help revive a business that has encountered a stuck point. In this article, we are going to look at how to initiate the strategic change process through two key questions, and then unpack three tools that can help organizations in these situations.

Initiating the Change Process

Two questions, paired together, initiate the strategic change process:

“What do you want to do?”,


“What are you willing to do?”

“What do you want to do?” quickly gets us talking about goals. Sometimes, these goals can be surprising. Sometimes, they run against the grain of what we ourselves would expect, prefer, or imagine if we were in the client’s shoes. This question makes sure our assumptions for direction and results are accurate, and helps us meet the client on the client’s journey, not the other way around.

As we unpack that “What do you want to do?”, it is necessary to dig into why those results, goals, or outcomes are important. This is the real art behind building strategy and organizational design. As we have said before, this process is often iterative, and each round drives closer to core beliefs and needs.

After unpacking the “What do you want to do?”, we have to pivot, rather quickly, to the second question: “What are you willing to do?” Goals, hopes, dreams, and desires are one thing. The willingness to marshal, manage, and direct resources toward those goals is another. Ultimately, the question really becomes “What are you willing to do differently?” – which is really at the crux of strategic change.

The answers to this question really begin to lay out the possible tools available to the client and those who help them. As we have stated elsewhere, these tools help us to empower change – but we need to resist the urge to jump immediately to a solution. We also need to resist the urge to chase some interesting (but less relevant) detail – a shiny object that pulls our focus off of the journey we are on. This is because most strategic change doesn’t merely involve technical know-how; it involves adapting to new realities and learning new things.

Tools for Adaptive Learning

There are three major tools for adaptive learning that often help revive businesses:

Executive Coaching. Having a-certified executive coach work with key organizational leaders (particularly owners and executives) can lead to the most profound organizational change. Many business challenges come down to leaders’ ability to manage complexity and find the sort of objective perspective that gets out of the pressures of day-to-day operations and looks at the big picture. Coaches help leaders gain capacity and insight through self-awareness to work from emotional intelligence as much (or in some cases more so) than expertise or technical skill.

Process Design. Because complexity is an inherent part of organizational life, organizational designers and business strategists must be able to design process that incorporates the multiple (and often competing) elements that make up that complexity. Process design speaks both to the need to compartmentalize aspects of strategic design, prioritize what comes first, and yet speak to the whole, with all of its overlappings, interacting, and contradictory elements while nurturing culture.

Running Experiments. Let’s face it: strategies have unintended consequences and often have surprising results. Sometimes what looks like the right approach on paper fails utterly at the first attempt. Creating space to run experiments, try things out, gather feedback, and analyze the results allows leaders to test ideas before committing to them. This reduces leaders’ and organizations’ anxiety, which allows for the “fight-flight-freeze” response to subside enough to move a business forward. This helps to encourage and empower change system-wide, too, because of some (many? most?) experiments fail in their stated goal, but the point of these experiments is to learn from them. A learning culture empowers an organization to change, perhaps more than anything else.

Taken together, these tools and approaches have helped many businesses get un-stuck, un-tangled, and clear to move forward. How do you see them applying in your situation?

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