People don’t need to be motivated to rush out of a burning building, or encouraged to run toward the lifeboats on a sinking ship. A clear and imminent danger leads to focused and immediate action.
All people need is a compelling reason why they need to do things differently. The more obvious and urgent the reason, the easier it is for them to shift from “how I do things”, to “how I could do things differently”. A fundamental problem with most failed large-scale change initiatives is that an urgent enough reason to change is never established.
Vision, Mission and Values all address the future. They are the “magnets” that can attract large numbers of people to a new way of being. Case For Action is the “wedge” that pries people out of their comfort zone in exactly the same way that a fire alarm jolts people out of business-as-usual and into emergency mode. It is where all successful change initiatives need to begin.
The Case For Action is a story. It is a Tribal History of the organization. It is the narrative of who we are and how we got to here. As one client likes to say, The Case For Action is “the good, the bad and the ugly of where we came from and what has brought us to this moment in time”.
Only when people in an organization collectively appreciate and own their past and present are they free to willingly step into a new possibility for the future. When the collective members of an organization share in the creation of a tribal story an energy is released that naturally leads to “what’s next”. When a Case For Action is crafted honestly and openly, and when everyone in the “tribe” has had an opportunity to contribute to and find themselves in the narrative, then an organization is ready to move from where they’ve been to where they want to go.
Often a true catharsis, a release of energy, occurs when an organization sincerely crafts their story. An organization move on from the inevitable shrinking of energy and creativity that results from past wounds and “injustices”. Because the story is captured in a narrative, it is there for everyone to see and to feel again and again. Done respectfully, without pointing fingers or naming names, and yet with an authenticity that is obvious to all, a Case For Action lays out the critical events and the performance of an organization clearly and matter-of-factly. It captures the story of the culture, business performance, ups and downs, problem and bright periods, leadership attitudes, public perception and competitive position. When done well, an entire organization breathes a collective sigh of relief because, as more than one client has said, “Finally we are telling the truth”.
The development of the Case For Action begins with the CEO and Executive Team. They are encouraged to just tell the truth about where they’ve been and where they are right now. A great deal of attention is devoted to making a safe space in which anyone can say anything. The only criteria is that it is “the truth” for that person speaking. We capture everything that everyone says about people, products, relationships inside and outside, between management and staff, across functions, successes and failures, blunders, anything noteworthy that would be important in telling the “tribal story”. Everything is written down in the words as they are spoken. Everything is valuable. Everyone’s voice is critical.
From there, we ask one person, maybe two, to take a cut at integrating all commentary and perspectives into a draft narrative that captures the essence of what is being revealed here. The narrative needs to celebrate the successes and highlights of the organization while not shying away at all from the painful missteps and flaws of the organization. All of it must find a home in the story.
We refine that draft for coherence, clarity and balance and then take it to the next level of leaders in the organization. In that session we ask them to each “find your voice” in this story. We use small groups as a way to invite intimacy and real sharing. Again, the comments are captured verbatim. Each participant is asked to insure the authenticity of what is being expressed. Everyone is asked to be a watchdog for having this story ring true, do justice to the strengths, accomplishments, beauty AND the failures, weaknesses and flaws of their organization.
The process of sharing, discussing and capturing the richness of what people see and feel is itself a transformational event. People not only feel heard, but in a very real way, they feel a new level of responsibility and authority in telling the story of their organization. Additionally, they feel a renewed sense of responsibility for creating the story that is yet to come. It is a liberating, exciting and sobering process. It is, by its nature, unifying. It brings Executives and Managers together in a way that begins to bond an Extended Leadership Team. People almost always feel more empowered and more motivated. Even before articulating a Plan of Action, this exercise makes it apparent that change needs to occur and it starts to point toward the specific nature of that change.
After this session, two or three representatives, usually one from management and one or two from the group of next level of leaders, volunteer and/or are selected with the task of taking the new input and integrating it into the next, more robust, iteration of this story.
With that document in hand, we approach the rest of the employees in the organization and in one way or another, give them the opportunity to share in the telling of this “tribal story”, the creation of the Case For Action.
Each of these steps are done alongside the development of a Vision for the Future, a set of Values that the organization will live by and a Plan of Action with the most critical initiatives that the organization will undertake to move from where they are to where they want to be. Every meeting, starting with the Executive Team, through meetings with all employees, explores each element of this package, allowing each to develop and become more rich with each iteration.