Have you ever been tasked with implementing a major change and felt overwhelmed by the seeming enormity of the task? Good news—you’re not alone. Organizational change is complex and sensitive. It requires patience, foresight, and leadership. Strategic planning can help change leaders establish more clear direction and develop an implementation strategy. Cicero has worked with business and social sector clients and small and large organizations alike to prepare for and implement change using the following three-step process.
Step 1: Determine the current state
Before jumping into a new project, decision-makers must understand the current organizational state—you can’t move forward if you don’t know where you’re starting from. Regardless of how informed you may feel, a thorough current state analysis that incorporates a variety of data sources and perspectives will supplement current understanding with a comprehensive and objective view of the company.
For example, Cicero recently developed an implementation plan for an international manufacturing company looking to overhaul its pricing strategy and infrastructure. To develop the current state report, our team conducted over 30 interviews with leaders throughout the organization, developed and distributed a survey to the organization’s international leaders, analyzed several years of transaction and internal data, and thoroughly reviewed contract terms (see Figure 1). Once we had a firm understanding of the organization’s current practices, strengths, and weaknesses, we could develop a future state vision and go-forward plan.
Similarly, we helped an international nonprofit develop new programming focused on reducing youth unemployment. Prior to recommending an implementation strategy, our team interviewed 25 internal leaders and company partners in order to understand current programmatic offerings, site limitations, and opportunities for improvement. Additionally, Cicero supplemented interviews with academic and scientific research, comparing recommended best practices and exploring assumptions underlying programmatic design.
Reliance on one data source alone could lead to bias or misjudgment. For example, interviews of the leadership team might present entirely different conclusions than interviews with employees more involved in daily operations. Similarly, incorporation of external perspectives, whether from partners, competitors, similar organizations, or academia, allows for more objective analysis and benchmarking.
This mistake is relatively common. In the example of the aforementioned nonprofit, leadership had concluded that the organization’s partners were generally enthusiastic about increasing their engagement with participating youth. Conversely, our interviews with their partners revealed that only a select few were willing to increase their involvement; the vast majority had deep concerns about associated costs. Without an expanded research scope, the organization could have pursued an implementation strategy slated for failure from the outset.
Step 2: Envision a comprehensive future state
Once you have a clear understanding of current state, think forward, unrestrained by current complexities and limitations. Draw a future state vision that is feasible but ambitious. For the vision to be an effective planning tool it must also be comprehensive, encompassing any relevant support infrastructure or capabilities required by the overall goals.
Frameworks are often helpful when expanding the overall goal into a more comprehensive and inclusive vision. In the example of the nonprofit provider, we used a people/processes/tools approach.
The organization wanted to offer new programming at every program site in partnership with local employers. By using the people/processes/tools framework to organize that vision, we articulated the additional sales, business development, tracking, and support needs that would be required to support the expansion (see Figure 2).
Regardless of the framework used, the future state vision should include overall goals, supporting infrastructure, funding mechanisms, resources, and systems, technologies, or tools.
Step 3: Map backwards, connecting future to current state
After establishing an understanding of current organizational state and future goals, map backwards, connecting future state to current state with detailed, organized initiatives. Sort the initiatives into subcategories and discrete phases, grouping by type, priority, and time needs. Next, identify the teams and additional resources needed to accomplish each initiative.
Drive the implementation plan one level deeper by treating each discrete initiative or category like its own project and expanding it into a project charter or project development report. Project charters state the objectives, scope, subtasks, methods, timelines, milestones, and resource needs required by the project, as well as any other guiding details. Ideally, a charter guides the team responsible for an initiative’s implementation. Charters are especially helpful when enlisting multiple teams to drive change; charters ensures alignment and empowers individual team leaders.
Effective implementation planning is the gateway to sustainable and lasting change. This approach is one of many but has helped a diverse array of Cicero clients more efficiently transform.