Change Management #1 – Leadership: Navigating with an executive map and compass

by Gary Monti on January 26, 2010

Welcome! to the first post in the Change Management Series. This blog is a simple user’s guide to a change management map, compass, and navigation method. We will look at their make-up and how they work. Later blogs will go deeper into how they work.

In leading your company through change you have a lot in common with Medieval explorers who studied their maps and ventured into the unknown: On the edge of the known world cartographers wrote, “There be dragons!” The environment is exciting and scary. Like those explorers you need your own map, compass, and navigation method in setting a successful course through an ever-changing environment.

Introductory work helps since the three tools have a surrealistic aspect and take some getting used to. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The tools function as a set. There is no one lead tool. Working well with one requires familiarity with the other two.
  2. The simplicity of the tools can be deceptive. Leonardo da Vinci’s statement, “The sophistication is reflected in the simplicity,” sums it up well. There is much that needs to be taken into consideration and balanced. Progress isn’t linear and at times it can be frustrating. It’s not enough to see it all. It has to be seen differently.

Similar to early explorers, by keeping a steady eye on the goals while being persistent you can succeed…with the risk of becoming totally lost ever-present! The risk is worth it.  The success is not just more of the same. It is a success that is different in kind. A whole new frame of mind emerges.

Those Medieval explorers broke out of the Middle Ages and helped lay the foundation for the Renaissance. That’s the type of change you and your organization can make. Break into the unknown and thrive! Besides, you know that death is inevitable with standing still. So let’s begin.

The Map

In complex, changing environments the map is like something out of Alice in Wonderland. It is always changing. Anytime someone does something the shape of the map changes. The terrain is dancing – never sitting still. Just look at Napster and the music industry terrain. A student writes a peer-to-peer file-sharing program. Traditional CD music sales drop. People become used to getting only the songs they like. The iTunes store appears and legitimizes some of the change to the music environment. The terrain just keeps on dancing. Having up-to-date terrain information is critical. Now, here’s the most important point in making and using maps: everyone in the organization becomes part of a sensing organism watching and listening at different frequencies, feeding information to everyone else, and updating the map. A rigid, top-down, command-and-control approach will fail.

The Compass

You have a map, know where you are and where you want to go. Moving towards the goal requires the organization to orient itself and track its progress. A compass is needed. Like any compass it has 3 components:

  1. A stable reference point- a magnetic north;
  2. A device pointing consistently towards the stable reference point as position changes – a compass needle;
  3. An indicator of the desired direction of travel – the arrow fixed on the front of the compass housing or the front of the ship.

In a changing situation the “magnetic north” of your executive compass comprises your values and beliefs. They need to be rock solid and visible to all. As the organization moves on the changing terrain this stable reference will help them orient and decide what the next action should be.

Your compass needle is the consistent aligning of actions with values and beliefs. As the terrain shifts you modify your behaviors to hold your bearing and stay on course. Those around you shift their behaviors accordingly. You can be trusted because you are walking the walk.

The compass arrow is the plan. It points the way. This plan is tied to the map and changes with the terrain. How fast the plan changes is critical. If the plan changes too fast and too frequently the organization drifts aimlessly. If the plan remains unchanged while the terrain shifts it becomes irrelevant. So, like something from a Salvador Dali painting the arrow changes with the terrain.

The Navigation Method

Moving on an ever-changing terrain requires unique skills and traits. A complex, changing situation has a unique characteristic, i.e., there is no one best path to get to the goals. Rather, there are multiple paths and some are better than others, for now, on this terrain.

Instead of marching in a straight line there is probing in different directions to see what works. Tactics change with the landscape. Where there once was a hill there now is a flat surface and movement is now unobstructed. The organizational structure shifts accordingly.

Here’s an example. Social networking increases the speed and simultaneity of disseminating information. Some organizations are adopting a more distributed structure where the speed and accuracy of local responses to customers’ requests increases while everyone maintains needed connections within the organization. In complexity theory this is called complex adaptive behavior.

Navigating towards goals in this manner requires a constant evolution. Here is where things can again become surreal with another unique characteristic of navigating a complex terrain surface. Taken to the extreme, the goals themselves can change if the organization is to survive. Monsanto shifted from being a supplier of commodity chemicals to being a biotech firm. It saw it was on a barren terrain and jumped to another!

This is not for the faint of heart. In fact, one might wonder why anyone would work this way and how the organization holds together. It has to do with the compass. By publishing your values and beliefs team members can compare it to their own. If they see a fit then they align their behaviors with yours. This is the glue that holds everything together as the organization goes through the stresses and strains of working towards the goals. It is called self-similarity.

Think of a couple bringing the first child home, then the second. A promotion occurs. A recession hits. Their lives can change in ways unimagined. It’s the self-similarity, the alignment of beliefs and values that holds them together. The organization continues in an almost constant state of flux.

In the next blog we will look deeper into the structure and operation of an organization undergoing change.

This introduction to the tools of change management can be taken further. In addition to being beneficial in business I find it quite fascinating. If you do too, send me an e-mail at gwmonti@mac.com or visit www.ctrchg.com.

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