Defining a positive vision for change

By Elisabeth Goodman, 24th December 2017

First define a clear and compelling vision

In my RiverRhee and CILIP on-site courses on managing change, and in my publication “The Effective Team’s Change Management Workbook“, I encourage people to think about “why” a change is taking place, before defining “what” it is and “how” to make it happen. The “why” or the vision for a change programme is often something that people find difficult to define.

Yet defining a clear and compelling vision is the first of the six common factors for successful change that my colleagues on the APM Enabling SIG committee and I identified during my time on the committee.

Key factors for successful change (APM Enabling Change SIG)

Some of the most compelling language around the incentives for change (for example Daryl Connor’s “burning platform“) focuses on negative or reactive, rather than positive or proactive reasons for change.

So it was good to read N.Anand and Jean-Louis Barsoux’s article in the November-December 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review (Note 1.) which suggests some compelling options for positive change.  Their four-year study of 62 corporate change programmes, across various sectors and countries, has also enabled them to define a clear and simple methodology for selecting such compelling visions.

Select your compelling vision and engage with your stakeholders

As Anand and Barsoux’s point out, the catalyst for organisational change, or transformation, cannot be improved efficiency or productivity alone. (Also known as operational excellence – on which more later.)  There must be some other ultimate aim or goal that will enable the organisation to deliver greater value to its stakeholders.  Their study identified five of these goals or, as they call them, quests:

  1. Global presence (becoming international in every aspect of the way the business works)
  2. Customer focus (understanding needs and providing integrated solutions that combine products and services)
  3. Nimbleness (the agility to adapt to different strategies, ways of working or cultures)
  4. Innovation (using internal and external resources)
  5. Sustainability (green or social responsiveness)

Defining nimbleness as a goal is an interesting one.  Our approach to operational excellence at RiverRhee is to increase the efficiency of organisational processes so as to free up and retain financial and intellectual capacity for delivering greater value.  This sounds like the nimbleness goal too…

The originality of the authors’ findings and recommendations revolves around using an internal audit against these five quests in a way that involves staff and hence also gets their buy-in for change. (This consequently also addresses the  APM EC SIG’s fourth key factor for successful change to engage stakeholders.)

Anand and Barsoux’s framework to audit the current status of strategic goals or “quests” – HBR, November-December 2017, p. 84

The audit enables those involved to evaluate the organisathon’s current performance, and hence identify gaps and potential prioritisations for change.

The authors also provide a forcefield analysis style tool for evaluating the enablers and barriers to help with the prioritisation.

Enablers and blockers to help prioritise the potential five quests for organisational change (Anand and Barsoux, HBR November-December 2017, p. 83)

Ensure strong leadership and sponsorship for change

The second factor for successful change that we identified in the APM Enabling Change SIG is having sponsors and stakeholders that are able to role model and support the change.

So Anand and Barsoux’s emphasis on developing leaders’ capability for change is a great way of building this sponsorship.  I particularly like their example from the company Stora Enso.

A dozen managers were selected at a time to be Stora Enso’s “Pathfinders” team.  Their mandate was to identify sustainability opportunities and to challenge the old way of doing things. The cohort was replaced each year, thereby building a pool of leaders with the capability and the mindset to champion change throughout the organisation.

Click here for information on RiverRhee’s training, workshops and coaching on managing change and other topics for managers and teams

What will you do next?

How well do you define the vision for your change programmes?

Could one or more of Anand and Barsoux’s list of five quests match with your vision for change?

How will you engage your stakeholders and ensure you have effective sponsorship for change?


  1. N.Anand and Jean-Louis Barsoux.  What everyone gets wrong about change management.  Harvard Business Review, November-December 2017, pp. 78-85
  2. About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

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