When You Need A Burning Platform
Change doesn’t tend to come easily to most of us.
For the most part, we don’t typically choose to change. More often, change - or at the very least, the need for it - is thrust upon us due to some exterior event, shift or development. When profits are severely impacted, when a competitor introduces a revolutionary new product or when an external environmental shift occurs, shifting the steady state we’ve become so comfortable with.
In those cases, we realize the need to move and act upon it, typically with the needed urgency and speed to drive the required shifts and actions. (Though even then, there will be those who will (passively or aggressively) fight the change, either paralyzed by or fearful of the shift in the status quo. But what cannot be doubted is that change is necessary.)
But what happens when the external or internal shifts are less evident? When business seems to be humming along nicely? When there’s profitability in our existing operations? When conventional wisdom and the market aren’t (yet) asking us any questions?
And yet, despite that, we see the less obvious signs in the system. A diffusion of focus when it comes to serving the customer, a lessening of emphasis on innovation in our offerings, or a lack of adoption of emerging tools, technologies and capabilities. Signs that reasonable people may disagree on, in terms of their importance but that, in our judgement, create a real risk to the business. What do we do then?
We need to build a burning platform. We need to develop the narrative (and then a clear action plan) that spells out the need for change - what, why, how. There are 4 broad steps to this:
Lay the facts on the table and develop the message. Why is this needed? What’s the evidence? What are the drivers? What will happen if we don’t change? What will happen if we do?
Make sure the leadership is aligned 100%. There is no room for doubters, so if anyone on the management team is not onboard, that is the first order of business to sort out. It is critical that everyone sing from the same hymn sheet, so to speak.
Clarify the change in terms of the customer. Stay true to who you are doing this for - the assumption being, of course, that this has been taken into account in developing the message and plan. If we are focused on serving our customer, then we’ll more easily bring along those we need to.
Build towards the solution. Lay out the activities in detail, phasing them in as needed. Not everything can be done at once, but it is critical to start with your champions, your early adopters, those who will grasp and run with the changes needed. Show early wins, share all positive metrics, be open and transparent. Measure, monitor and mitigate, as needed.
Interestingly, what we tend to see is that the actual technical aspects of the burning platform - the change itself - is likely going to be the least of your concerns. Far more critical will be the need to drive change behaviorally, to get minds to align, to get bodies to act. This is as true at the leadership level as it is among the broader population.
It should also go without saying that it is essential to have a factual basis for the burning platform. There has to be real world evidence that you can point to as the basis/justification for the change. There’s no way to skirt this. You cannot make up or lie about the underlying facts. Your people will see through that in an instant.
Finally, it is critical to be positive throughout, no matter the gravity of the situation. People don’t respond well to negativity and peril, but they will go through hell or high-water for the promised land. It should always be about the opportunity, the positive, the path forward.