How to Define a Vision for Change

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A clear vision of the desired “future state”, or what the organization will look like after the change, is an important foundation for any modernisation effort. This includes what services the organization will deliver, how it will operate and how its stakeholders will interact. Envisioning the future state helps the organization determine the extent of change required, the teams that will be needed to enact the change and the vision that stakeholders will need to embrace. A standard approach for defining the future state and the required change starts with identifying the “current state”, or what the organization looks like right now, what it focuses on and how it operates. (If the organization has already begun making some changes, it may be helpful to think of this as the “old state”.)

After outlining the current state, change agents can create a picture of what the future should look like. The “drivers of change” and the department’s strategic plan are inputs for defining the future state. In looking at the future state, it will become clear that there is a gap between the current (where you are) and future (where you want to be) states. This gap is the change required to achieve the desired future.

By assessing this gap, you can determine the types and extent of change in your department. Defining the change must occur early, when the programme is first organised. As the change’s complexity can range from fairly simple (such as the implementation of a new process or IT system) to transformational (which affects multiple dimensions of the organization, including the behaviour and mindsets of its employees), determining the scope of the change helps the design and implementation team establish the priorities and timing for specific changes. The team will use this to help assess the different activities that need to occur, which changes are dependent upon others and how the changes need to be sequenced.

The more that is required to change, the more significant the need is for change management. Determining the scope early helps ensure that change management resources, training, processes, coaching, communications, etc. can be provided.

What the vision must do:

The vision should be viewed as a set of guiding principles throughout the life of the programme.  Additionally, when developed and articulated across the organization – and outside it should provide the following benefits:

  • Reason -  for understanding and explaining need for the Change Programme
  • Guide – to the way we work
  • Motivation – giving us something to work towards.
  • Touchstone – reminding us of what we are all here for
  • Unifier -  how we can align our efforts towards achieving the end goal
Key Questions

The following questions will guide your organization in defining the change:

  • How would you describe the current focus, structure and characteristics of your organization?
  • How should these be in the future?
  • What is the fundamental gap between these two? What specific changes are required?
  • What are the expected outcomes of the change?
  • What is the extent (scope) of the change?
  • What are the priorities and timeline?
  • What are the implications on people, given the urgency and timelines for this change?

Before a change can be implemented successfully, leaders and stakeholders need to understand the reason for change and support it. To build support, change sponsors, leaders and agents need to communicate with and engage a variety of stakeholders early in your department’s change programme. Examples of key stakeholders who may need to buy-in to the transformation early include:

  • Senior leaders of other departments whose work or processes may be directly or indirectly affected by your department’s change;
  • Division managers or other decision-makers and change leaders who can either accelerate or hinder change efforts by providing or withholding support, endorsement, expertise or other resources;
  • Key supervisors or managers who can secure the support of and influence employees or customers throughout the change; and/or
  • Key external stakeholders, who may be directly or indirectly affected by a significant change in your strategy and operations and can either partner to enact the change or establish roadblocks.

To gain support, it is important to engage stakeholders in a dialogue, listen to their concerns and then address their questions. During these conversations, people will be closely watching to understand if leaders’ intentions and actions are authentic. Building relationships, credibility and trust early on is critical. It is even more important, however, to keep commitments and manage expectations throughout the change process. Sharing the case for change early in the department’s change programme can help build a coalition of people who will help to engage and mobilise resources and stakeholders to support a successful transformation.

Additionally, this helps to identify areas of potential resistance. As a result, you and your change management team will be better able to mitigate issues and increase the likelihood of acceptance. In short, this initial communication is a critical process for aligning your department with the leaders and identifying the conditions that will ensure successful transformation.

When developing the case in detail you should consider including:

  • Project goals and objectives: what we are trying to achieve
  • Guiding principles: underlying beliefs and aspirations
  • Operations dimensions: breaking the vision down into actionable components
  • People view: what it will mean for individuals
Key Questions

The following questions will guide you and your change management team in building and communicating the case for change:

  • Who needs to have a shared vision of the change early in the change journey?
  • What is the case for change (reasons, process, outcomes, benefits, etc)?
  • How will you communicate the case for change?
  • How will you handle resistance and concerns?
  • How will you involve stakeholders, yet manage expectations and honour commitments?

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