One of the most fundamental challenges in business is how to convert vision and strategy into reality. This is the essence of change management, and it is where every business owner or CEO regularly faces his or her defining moment. The fact is, you can have incredible business strategies, but if you are unable to successfully implement, your days as a business leader are numbered—and your company’s existence is in jeopardy.
Successful content should include the execution of strategy and the achievement of desired outcomes. Successful process, however, goes further. It assures that a strategy becomes part of the company’s culture and the way you and your people do business on a day-to-day basis.
As you might imagine, this seldom happens easily or fast. My experience over the years has taught me to expect the following progression—if the CEO carefully manages process as well as content:
Initially, every significant change is met with some level of resistance, or conflict. It is important for the business owner or CEO to understand where each of his or her stakeholders really stands regarding becoming fully engaged in the strategy. It is also important to discuss strategy in detail with your executive team, and where possible, with all employees. This should not be a lecture or one-way communication, but rather should consider the ideas, opinions and concerns of all. CEOs sometimes have a tendency to skip this part of the process in favor of getting started. This is inevitably a mistake! Although it is certainly within your power to force a strategy to the compliance level, the likelihood that you will create true buy-in is low.
In managing the adoption process, your first objective is to work through the conflict or resistance phase to get people to just give it a try. This is compliance. What you should expect here is that your team will give a full effort to adopting the essential actions required to implement your strategy. This doesn’t mean that they are completely sold; it just means that they are no longer resistant to trying it. Your job will be to provide sustaining actions to assure that they perform their essential actions every day.
As your strategy begins to prove viable, your team should naturally move to the next level: concurrence. At this point, they will begin to express their understanding that the strategy actually works, that it is achieving the desired outcomes and that they approve of it. This is often where solid strategies begin to lose traction, so continued attention to essential and sustaining actions is critical here. If CEOs and other executives stop fulfilling their sustaining responsibilities, it gives license to employees to discontinue their essential actions. In short, concurrence isn’t a change of culture yet; it is, however, an essential stepping stone to real culture change.
To get to the top of the pyramid, you must build buy-in to your strategy. In order for this progression to occur, it is essential that the CEO keep an open mind and an open door to allow for regular input and feedback from stakeholders.
It is impossible to achieve the ultimate goal of having the strategy becoming part of the everyday culture of your business if you don’t move through each level of the pyramid shown above. Conflict must be overcome to achieve compliance, which must be achieved to reach concurrence, which must be attained to lead to culture.
When the top of the pyramid is attained, the CEO will find that most, if not all, of his or her employees will readily extol the virtues of the strategy. At this point, employees will willingly adopt the sustaining actions required to keep the strategy intact. And you, as the CEO, will have the ability to extend your attentions elsewhere.
There is one additional step to maintaining this newfound culture. From among those who are clearly supportive, it is important to identify a champion or evangelist. This person should be someone with the time, energy and enthusiasm to focus his or her attention on the initiatives or projects that grow out of strategy. By using a champion, CEOs will feel less isolated in taking on the challenges of implementing new strategies, and they will find that their ability to move rapidly from compliance to concurrence will be enhanced in future efforts.
Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner, and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses. For 21 years, CEObuilder has successfully brought about an outstanding financial return for CEO and executive clients through providing leading-edge content in the areas of strategizing, team-building, problem-solving and managing for results, as well as the use of proprietary learning and coaching processes.