Strategic Thinking for Organizational Change Managers

Many people confess that change is difficult. It is hard for individuals to get away from their comfort zone, get into the discomfort of starting something new, and then create a brand new comfort zone. (Notice Lewin’s unfreezing, reforming and refreezing process). Expand this for the thousands of people in your organisation and suddenly the problem becomes intractable. Indeed getting a whole group of people aligned towards a new goal, a new strategy, a new process, or even a new culture, is often met with huge challenges. There are more ways for the initiative to fail than for it to take root. So how can change managers make change successful? In this article, we apply the strategic thinking process to help change managers plan this process to make execution smoother and easier.

Intent focused

The intent of the change manager is simple – get the change to stick. To do that, there is a need to clarify the intent for the change. Articulate what you are trying to achieve, and make it as plain as possible. Leave the business need in the boardroom. Instead, make the picture as compelling as possible by telling your intent story. Take a look at these two examples:

Example 1:

Currently we work on a 7-day-on/7-day-off shift cycle. We need to move onto a 14-day-on/14-day-off cycle because that will give us greater productivity, and minimize safety risks by halving the number of helicopter transfers from land to the platform. With productivity improvements, we can also afford higher salaries. Ultimately, while you spend more time on the platform in one shift, you also spend more time at home during off-shift. A total win-win effort.

Example 2:

Imagine if you will… you spending 14 days each month in a stretch doing whatever you want while being paid for it! You can travel to other countries, run a side business, tend to your garden, volunteer for social causes and experience life without stress! And what’s more, you get more money in your pocket to afford all these! By shifting onto a 14-day-on/14-day-off cycle, you get to experience all these and more!

Which one sounds more compelling? Obviously, the second one. Yet the intent was the same for both stories: to get greater buy-in for the move from the 7/7 to the 14/14 shift cycle; and both of them were factually correct. The first intent story would obviously appeal to the boardroom, but the second intent story will appeal to the masses.

When you want to get the people on board, start by crafting a compelling intent story.

If you want help in this area, read our related post on the Pixar Pitch.

Related: How Pixar makes the perfect pitch and totally nails their strategic thinking process


So with the intent so well articulated, the change manager will now need to think of how (s)he will need to get there. There are several ways:

  • Centralised planning and execution

  • Centralised planning and decentralized execution

  • Decentralised planning & execution

Different options have different benefits and which to ultimately use will depend on more background knowledge and process constraints, which we will now collect.

Thinking in time

As strategic thinkers, you know the importance of thinking in time: to understand the decisions and events that occurred in the past, which impact our current situation. One of the key outcomes of this is to see if there were others in our situation and how they managed to overcome that. Of significance is what we call “bright sparks”, a term used by the Heath Brothers to refer to people, or organisations, who have uncovered simple, yet effective, solutions to address a similar situation to yours.

For example, a cafe franchisor was receiving complaints about food items being sold out in many of the franchisee outlets. Apparently, their model of having the franchisee outlets prepay for food items ordered has caused franchisees to cut back on order quantities, especially for the higher costing items. However, there was one outlet that NEVER got a complaint. So headquarters went down to see how they did things. They found out that the outlet negotiated with the finance department to allow them to post-pay at the end of each week, but at a higher unit cost, which finance treats as interest. This allows the franchisee to assess the demand for each item, and makes predictive ordering (they have a 3-day order lead time) work better for them. Since they had already collected the money upfront for the items sold, they could meet the payment easily, giving them more confidence to make bigger and bolder orders.

Such “bright sparks” point to ways for change managers to adopt quick wins, a key concept to kick-start the change process.


In many change situations, the keys to success lay outside of the efforts for change itself. Each organisation would probably have their own constraints to meet but here are some typical ones:

Stakeholders’ support

Not only do we need to get senior management support, but also the support of all the vendors and suppliers. By identifying all the stakeholders involved and getting their concerns heard and addressed will ultimately increase the success of your initiative. This needs to be done upfront, and continuously through the process, rather than as a “here’s-what’s-going-to-happen-from-now-on”. Co-creating the change is one of the best ways to get success.

Business continuity

If you could simply cut from one system to the next cleanly, without impacting the business, that would be best. However, there seldom ever is a simple solution like that. Hence, as the change in implemented – either in phases or in one fell swoop – plans need to be put in place to ensure there is minimal disruption to the business.

Risk minimization

Loss of business is one risk, but there are other elements of risk that we might need to look into including operational risk, service risk, financial risks, safety risks, reputational risks, even regulatory risks. These should then be converted to key constraints that the change manager should look into to anticipate downside effects and mitigate them.

Resource allocation and timing

Resource is a major element in change, both the acquisition of it and its timely application. While the change manager does not hold on to these resources, he will have to get key stakeholders to release them in a timely fashion. And some of them need a longer lead-time, which need to be planned for and enacted in a concurrent manner. The key ultimately is not to delay the change yet not leave any resource standing idly by.

Each of these constraints represents a necessary condition for a successful outcome. Any of these constraints has the ability to derail the change. Hence, change management is more than just herding the masses towards a new outcome, it is also about keeping the leading casts on-script and on-support.


Reframing impacts change management the most in is its ability to create a compelling intent story. Just like Example 2 above, which focused on what platform operators could enjoy as a result of the change, reframing allows people to see the change from a different angle, thereby making it easier to implement it.

We use 7 different reframing techniques which we present here for change management use:

Technique 1: What new and differentiated value can we achieve with this change?

Technique 2: What bright sparks can we find to leverage the change?

Technique 3: What other related needs can we meet for our people through this change process?

Technique 4: What other products, services or incentives can we bundle into our change process to make it easier to accomplish?

Technique 5: Can we work across business lines to strengthen the value proposition for the change?

Technique 6: What other companies can we collaborate with to make the change better received?

Technique 7: What experience can we create for our people in helping them transit towards the new status quo?

Related: 7 perspectives to see your situation differently

Balancing constraints with options

Taking all the options into account, balancing them with the constraints which were articulated here, the best two options are the ones with centralized planning.

Bracketing to manage uncertainty

Option One: Centralised planning & Execution


  • We have enough capabilities to execute the change within the stated timing

  • Line managers support the change

  • We have access to the line staff

  • Our value proposition is compelling enough

  • We get unwavering support from all stakeholders

Worst case (when all the assumptions are wrong)

That will kill the change initiative. There are many things that need to be done to prevent this from happening:

  • Enlist the help of a strong ally in the organisation – the CEO or CFO;

  • Continuously engage all stakeholders, most likely on a one-on-one basis;

  • Get the line managers on our side and use them to cascade the messaging

Best case (when all the assumptions are right)

Then we can proceed with no worries. (This means we really need to ensure that the assumptions are right!)

Option Two: Centralised planning & decentralized execution


  • Line managers will support and help cascade the message

  • They will say the right things & not misrepresent the process

  • Line staff will support the line managers

  • The value proposition is compelling enough

  • We get unwavering support from stakeholders

Worst case

Several of the assumptions are the same for this option and the other. When all the assumptions are wrong, it means that there is a need for greater central control. And to maintain consistency of messaging, videos, blogs, FAQs, should be published and made available to everyone. This has to be done centrally.

Best case

This will actually make the change process easier and faster.

Ultimately, whichever option is chosen, the centre of gravity is to have line managers’ support and have them push the message to their staff with the help of messaging done centrally.


Change management need not be difficult. The strategy is to approach it through centralized planning, and decentralized execution. The centralized planning needs to accomplish the following:

  • identify the intent of the change

  • look out for bright sparks

  • formulate a solution from these sparks

  • shoot for quick wins

  • trial the solutions, documenting success

  • get senior management approval

  • craft the intent story

  • develop marketing collaterals

  • train line managers

  • who will then cascade the information and get extended buy-in

And that is how change managers can apply strategic thinking to making change work!

Do you have a change project that you need some help developing? We can come in and create the skeletal frame upon which you can run the change project. Just contact us at and we will make that work for you!

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