Three steps to get your people to adopt a strategic mindset

Hi Ian,

Strategic thinking requires teamwork, not working alone. How can we achieve our objectives if some of our peers are resistant to change or just focus on the current working process?


Dear Harried,

This is an excellent question for two reasons: one, it acknowledges that strategic thinking impacts everyone and that everyone has a role to play; two, that change is required if we wanted to be more strategic. For the purposes of this article, I shall focus on the change aspect, and how we can me that work for your organisation.

They say that change is difficult and many people resist change. While that might be true to some extent, many people are also frustrated by a negative status quo, and if no change happens when things are deteriorating, they will make that happen by moving out. Hence, change is important in any organisation, and we need to be strategic about it. According to the Heath brothers, in their book Switch, there three key change initiatives to make this happen, which we shall call talk to the head, appeal to the heart, and map the path.

Talk to the Head

Obviously your strategic intent is the starting point here because it helps people understand where you are going. You therefore need to start by painting the destination. You can use images, stories, or videos to do that.

But that is not enough. You will also need to find bright spots within your organisation – those who have actually done what you are planning to do, and showcase how they do it. If you can have positive examples of people within your organisation already doing that, you will be able to breakdown resistances to getting it done.

Next, you should also script the critical moves. You don’t need to tell them everything they need to know to get the change done because that might be overwhelming. Instead, just identify the critical moves that need to be done. For example, the Singapore Health Promotion Board has a new eat right initiative. They have ditched the food pyramid for a simple plate, showing proportions of what to eat. But the most helpful part of their guide, they say, Drink Water. Instead of saying avoid coffee, alcohol, or whatever, they simply scripted the critical move – drink water! Do that, and you will also eliminate ambiguity.

Appeal to the Heart

The reason why a person will make change happen is not because “we need to cut costs by 12%.” This is not energising at all. If we want a person to make change happen, we need to appeal to the heart. The first thing to do here is to fuel the emotion. But don’t just use negative emotions to get it done, you should also use positive ones to make people feel good about the change. To do that, use quick wins. Structure the change initiative such that the first step is easy to overcome. This will fill your people with positive endorphines, telling them that they can make the change work, and help them move the to the next level. Without the positive boost in self-confidence, they will be stuck, thinking that the end goal is too far, too difficult.

Finally, to appeal to the heart, develop your people. Help them find ways to bridge the gap, linking these to your critical moves, so that they know how to get to where they need to be.

Map the Path

Sometimes, the current environment does not allow your change initiative to take root. In this case, you might need to tweak the environment. For example, the last thing you need is a distracted nurse when dispensing medicine. To overcome this, hospitals have instituted a sterile environment for dispensing nurses, who will wear a brightly-coloured vest to inform everyone around her, including doctors, that she is not to be disturbed. She is also empowered to ignore all demands of her attention (unless there is an emergency around her).

But new habits are difficult to build, especially one that is now counter to the current habit. Enter action triggers. An action trigger is a trip wire that demands a certain action. Once the trigger is activated, a specific action is taken. Over time, this will build the right habits, and ease the new actions into the behaviours of our people.

Finally, you need to rally the troops, getting them all to display the right behaviours. This will help those who are new to the environment to look to them for behavioural cues.

So there you are, Harried. Three simple steps (each with three simple steps) you can take to help your peers overcome the resistance to change, and adopt a more strategic thinking mindset.

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