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Five Questions That Should Shape Any Change Program

| February 7, 2012

by Jim Bruce

Today’s reading “Five Questions That Should Shape Any Change Program” comes from Scott Keller and Colin Price, directors at McKinsey & Company and coauthors of the book Beyond Performance.  This article appeared early in December in the HBR blog.

Keller and Price wrote this book to address a key problem in leading change: “organizations that focus too much on short-term financial performance, at the expense of organizational health, are those that most typically need transformational change.”  They also note that if the organization puts equal emphasis on both performance and health it will get both near-term improvements and also build the organization’s capacity to learn and keep changing over time.  

Even though financial performance has a different dimension in universities, Keller and Price’s questions to help guide a change program seem just as valid for higher education as for the commercial sector:

1.  Where do we want to go?  Quite often we have a clear view of the service we want to provide or the performance improvement we want to achieve as a result of our change initiative.  But, do we have an equally clear view of our staff’s capabilities and where your and their passions lie.  You need to know and to develop both as you create your plan.

2.  How ready are you to get started?  Being ready to start requires having an action plan that addresses all the change issues – both those having to do with the service as well as those having to do with the competencies and mindsets needed to make the change stick.

3.  What practical steps do you need to take?  You start by being clear about what you won’t and what you will do to improve both performance and health.  It’s always as much about staff competencies and mindsets as it is about performance.

4.  How will you manage the journey?  Clear communications – everyone understands how their work contributes to the outcomes.  Work to ensure that staff feel they own the results.  Make real progress toward goals that are kept relevant.

5.  How do you maintain forward motion?  Too many times our planning horizon (and the work) goes only through the service delivery or the performance improvement.  It needs, however, to go through the delivery and convert into a continuous improvement activity.  Continuing to work on the new service is necessary to sustain the new level of performance you have achieved.

It certainly takes more effort to focus on both the performance as well as the necessary competencies and mindsets dimensions.  However, both are absolutely necessary for real success.

So, the next time you lead a change effort, think broadly.  Let these five questions be your guide.


.  .  .  .    jim