No Pain, No Gain

Watching your platform burnFew people fight for change. You can win the fight.

Let’s face it. In the great scheme of daily events, most of us fight against change. The bigger the change – unfamiliar, threatening, fraught with risk – the harder the fight. For companies unaccustomed to change, the call for innovation threatens the status quo. Whether people resist overtly or subversively, expect a fight.

Twenty years ago my colleagues and I honed a framework to describe the four necessary ingredients to compel an organization to change: Angst, Vision, Belief, and Plan. Together they must overcome the perceived cost to change. We call it AVBP. Think of it as a formula:

&AVBP formula

Your organization (or team, or you personally) begins to  overcome the inertia to change course when a nagging ANGST grows in your gut. You feel the queasiness of early fear. It chills like cold sweat. For reasons you can’t yet explain, you sense that all is not well; the familiar path goes  from sensible to disconcerting. It’s an early warning signal. But gnawing trepidation fails to trigger most people to alter their course.

They also need a VISION – a contrasting picture of what “good” looks like. Not just what feels wrong. But what looks right. ANGST+ VISION gets leaders talking. But for the folks in the trenches, A+V adds up to less than C. We’ve learned the hard way that lots of leaders spout ambitious visions without ever matching words to wallets.

We need more than platitudes. We need to see tangible acts. Actions inspire BELIEF– the possibility that we might actually do as we say. If I see the right people doing the right things, I may eventually believe it’s safe to join them. With enough evidence I may even decide it’s more dangerous not to join them. That’s the tipping point.

Finally, to fully mobilize the troops, and align their actions, we all need a PLAN. What’s important? What comes first? What’s your job? What’s mine?

Add all those up, and if they exceed the perceived “cost to CHANGE”, your leaders and your teams are on their way to making big things happen, in lock step, a virtuous self-reinforcing cycle.

AVBP as diagrammed below depicts the dynamic tension required to propel action.

&AVBP diagramAngst + Vision communicate best from the top. Belief + Plan apply at the individual, team and unit levels.

On the left hemisphere, Angst + Plan “push” people to act. Angst produces fear and fear propels. Plans assign responsibility for clear actions with deadlines. Deadlines motivate.

On the right side, Vision + Belief “pull” people to act. Vision paints a picture of a better destination. And Belief confers the confidence to pursue it.

We’ve always found it works best to proceed from the top left quadrant. Start with Angst and cycle around to the Plan. That sounds more linear and clean than reality ever delivers. Bits and pieces of each quadrant bubble up organically. Find them, connect them and build your case.

1. ANGST: Establish a burning platform. Offer proof, or at least compelling indicators. Cite irrefutable data. Show what happened to those who failed to heed past warnings. Bring in experts to add credibility.  A simple set of interviews or a structured diagnosis will reveal the internal angst. And a proper market scan and trend analysis forewarns of the impending shifts.

2. VISION: Craft a compelling possible future. Show what it looks like when you establish a reputation as the category leader in innovation. Don’t shy away from the risks. Present the facts and trust better informed people to make better decisions.

3. BELIEF: Demonstrate that recognized leaders are committed to achieve the vision. Remember promises are wasted. Actions shout. Words whisper.

4. PLAN: Map out milestones to build the foundation for the vision. Show people where to start.

Lacking a comprehensive framework like this, most companies pursue innovation – or any other strategic change initiative – haphazardly. Leaders pronounce bold visions that fall on deaf ears and jaded minds. “Flavor of the month.” Heard it before. “Wait a quarter and priorities will change again.”

Others lay out plans but, in the absence of angst or belief, little progress is made. “It must have been a bad plan.”

Others navel gaze, undertaking innovation diagnostics to benchmark failings and gaps. Yet no one jumps on the bandwagon to improve. Why? Because A+V+B+P sums up to LESS than the cost to Change. Why bother telling me I’m fat if I see no reason to exercise? But show me a picture of my clogged arteries, my weakened heart, my family history of premature death? “Where’s that treadmill!”

Do the math. AVBP works.

Make Better.

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