IBM’s Center for the Business of Government this week published my Leader”s Guide to Transformation. In doing so the Center demonstrated the value of communicating in multiple media simultaneously. They also included the discussion of transformation in their blog and an article about the Leader’s Guide in their magazine. On February 2nd there will be a discussion of the guide on their radio show.
For me personally the most interesting thing that is likely to emerge from this prodigious output will be to see whether the subject engages the interest of an audience. What often happens in cases like this one is that high visibility initiatives (Transformation of the Army, Transformation of the USPS) consume all of the oxygen in a debate. When the smart people call them a cliche they become a dead zone of discussion and even if there is nothing to replace them conceptually they become a subject to be avoided. Here, in interview after interview I talked to the leaders of initiatives who told me that they had no “new” word, that the concept of transformation was an important one to them. So the question becomes: even if it isn’t news is it valuable to seek to learn what did the leaders of effective transformation efforts find to be most important?
The concept of creating a “playbook” for future leaders should rightly be credited to Jonathan Breul, the Director of iBM’s Center for the Business of Government. We were talking about my pending Leader’s Guide to Transformation last year as he oversaw the progress of a publication that he was supporting. We were reaching for something that would give us an edge in getting noticed when we knew that the communications marketplace would be a crowded one.
The core concept was to create a “playbook” from the comments that were made by a variety of high level interviewees – ideas and concepts that they had found to be valuable. Scheduling interviews was maddening. But once in the room a wide variety of government leaders were more than willing to talk about what worked.
Our concept was that from such a playbook someone could assemble a specific gameplan that would fit the particular setting of the agency and the opportunities they could see before them.
There is no better example of the need to individualize a gameplan than the issue of the timing of the launch. Leaders talk about the value of a “burning platform” to contribute a sense of urgency to an agency. Having a compelling reason to act (the platform on which you are standing is burning) makes it easier to encourage action in a typically recalcitrant bureaucracy. But the problem is that in spite of the heat of the moment, the right time to launch a transformation initiative may be more a function of the needs of the customers and the competitors than the ability to encourage movement from reluctant government managers. Having the right play to call may make the difference between optimal timing and a lesser choice.
There is at times so much rhetoric surrounding the discussion of transformational leadership that its worthwhile at times to go back to basics and think about the conversation that you would like to have with a leader faced with the compelling need to lead change. Where do you begin? What if the elements of transformation that appear in the Leader’s Guide to Transformation (planning, aligning, innovating, implementing and sustaining) are not particularly meaningful?
The mantra of the modern Harvard Business School “thinking, doing, reflecting” may be a useful way to think about what comes first and what after that? The working papers page contains a deck titled “The Transformation Leadership Process. The concepts are simple. But that’s the point.
- Thinking – there is a great deal of justifiable excitement that surrounds the discussion of analytics today. In part, this stems from the possibilities that technology has created for measuring performance on a real time basis. But analytics start with knowing what should be measured and why?
- Doing – Even with direction that is aligned strategically and an information architecture that can deliver performance information in a reliable, timely manner there will be a need in the modern marketplace to make decisions and to act collaboratively. Here the “open swaps” decision model is shown to demonstrate an approach to decision-making that can be opened up to stakeholders. The open swaps method compares multiple options with multiple decision criteria.
- Reflecting – Here five questions that leaders should be asking about their effectiveness are offered as a starting point.
A “way forward” concludes the deck: do you want to consider strategies that emphasize cost reduction and efficiency to make improvements or are they focused on top line growth, on service and quality improvement.
What’s most interesting about revisiting the basics is seeing how important it is to begin by understanding where you are. Just asking whether you are considering what to do, trying to do it or reviewing what happened offers an accessible starting point.