Analyzing risks and issues is something that our clients don’t like doing, and they are not alone.
None of us like to sit and study all those worries and things that scare us. That’s why we pay to go see horror movies, for goodness sake! We leave it to professionals to scare us (you know, horror movie directors, insurance agents, politicians). We don’t like amateurs like us doing it to ourselves!
However, dealing head on with risks and issues it is an integral part of how we lead our change management practice. This is true whether we lead business transformations for our corporate clients or lead mid-sized business leaders through our Business Revitalization Bootcamp.
You could ask the question, “Why? Is there really a benefit of, in esence, scaring your clients?”
Yes, but first, just a brief segue. I once listened to a comedian (I’m sorry, I forget who it was) who read the fine print on how to keep the heart healthy for a long life. He realized that it wasn’t specifically exercise that was required, no, but instead getting your heart rate up three times a day.
So, not wanting to exercise, he put himself in life-threatening situations three times a day.
So, that could be one of the reasons for addressing our clients’ fears about risks and issues – but it’s not. We leave it to our clients to take care of their own personal physical health, however they choose to do it.
No, we do this because there are tangible benefits. Here is an example from one of our clients, a large Canadian division of a well known global company.
Our client was starting a significant transformation of their business, one considered the largest change project in this company’s history. We started working with the senior leaders, sponsoring this change, on a risk assessment.
Because this project was as big as it was, we decided to broaden our change readiness assessment into a full scope risk assessment. Therefore the Project Manager (PM) and I sat down together and over a few days came up with three scenarios, A, B, and C.
Scenario A was the current trajectory the project was on. The PM and I saw this current timeline as fraught with risks and issues associated with long timelines: scope creep, budget overruns, loss of momentum, and so on.
We came up with alternate scenarios, B and C, that had more condensed timelines, but each focused on slightly different elements. Both however increased risk of some kind of failure due to shortened timelines. This included some brand reputation, and even personal legal, risks. However, we felt that these were manageable for either option B or C.
Then, before presenting our analysis and recommendation to the leaders, we asked ourselves, “What if they ask us about trying to achieve both elements together, combined B and C, with an even shorter time frame?”
We thought that would be enormously risky to try and do. So, to dissuade our leaders, and to be prepared in case they asked that question, we worked out scenario D. And it looked truly frightening.
Then we got cocky. During the presentation, instead of waiting for the leaders to ask we thought, “Why don’t we just show them scenario D, so that they can see for themselves how unrealistic this would be?” So we did. We presented all four scenarios.
Which scenario will it be, B or C?
As expected, none of them liked the current path, scenario A. Then they listened patiently while we walked through scenarios B and C. When we got to scenario D, we dispensed with it pretty quickly since it was so outrageous we didn’t want to waste their time belaboring details.
And then, they started asking questions. Unbelievably, they started asking questions about scenario D.
I started getting the sinking feeling that they were actually, seriously, considering this option. At one point I looked over at the PM and realized she felt the same way. She looked as aghast as I felt inside. As the meeting progressed our worst fears came true. The consensus emerged: “We can deal with those risks, let’s get option D done.”
We couldn’t believe our eyes and ears. The PM and I sunk into a state of shock. It was now our turn to ask questions: “Are you sure you understand…?”, “Do you realize that this could mean…?”, and so on.
After a few minutes the leaders had enough and basically gave us our marching orders. We walked out. I was a bit dizzy, I remember, but then had to get going and start working on our plans. She, on the new project plan, and I on the new change management plan.
We had to rework a quite a few things, and eventually presented our final plans, integrated, which were approved. At this point I felt what I think BASE jumpers must feel before diving off a building.
Who packed my parachute?
However, now that it’s all over, I am pleased to report that my and the PM’s misgivings were largely not realized. I have to give credit to these leaders in that they didn’t follow our recommendation. I don’t have the opportunity to say that too often, but here I am very happy to give credit where it’s due.
“Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more.”
Mark Twain, American humorist and author
They understood the risks and issues within their business better than the PM and I did, and they knew how to manage them.
Managing Resistance Risks
In the case of resistance at the leadership level, they knew all the players and their motivations. They proactively nipped this risk in the bud, sometimes quite assertively.
In the case of staff resistance, they allocated budget to help people adjust, provided incentives for desired behaviours, and issued pretty clear warnings of consequences for undesired ones.
They made themselves available throughout, and any hiccups that arose were dealt with pretty aggressively. They truly acted like change sponsors and champions.
The outcome was pretty impressive too.
First, this major change was implemented in a (relatively) short period of time. The five year implementation plan was shortened to just over two years. If you consider we had a 30-40 person team working on this, many dedicated full time, the savings are tremendous. Just the salary and consulting fee savings alone ran into the millions of dollars.
Secondly, we (the entire team) received kudos from the executive leadership for being one of the most successful transformation projects ever. A similar version of this project was tried 5-6 times in the past, each time being abandoned and considered a failure. Our version broke that jinx, and sowed confidence about what this organization was capable of.
Lastly, we received congratulations from the global executives who were kept abreast of our progress as well. That raised the reputation of the entire organization, especially those closely involved with the program.
Lesson to take home with you
The big lesson for all of us here should be not to shy away from going for aspirational goals.
If you and your leadership team: understand each risk thoroughly; are clear what you have to do to mitigate every one; start doing so proactively; and, finally, aggressively deal with every issue as it comes up, you too can reap huge rewards by pursuing the riskiest ventures.
Get started now. Don’t let the grass grow (or snow melt) under your feet!
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Blog header image by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash (Image 287077)