Change - Strategic Facilitation

by Tony Mann

Change agenda and strategic process

The fundamental point is that there is a difference between change agenda and strategic process. These two elements of any project or change programme are symbiotically connected, yet fundamentally different. The two terms therefore need to be defined.

Change agenda

Change agenda/objective is what the organisation is aiming to achieve. It is the issues facing them, the item on the strategic agenda and the topic of the various workshops/events. People have to achieve deliverables, to resolve issues and explore ideas.

Organisations tend to give little or no attention to the strategic process. In a manufacturing factory the opposite is the case: managers concentrate on the processes. Their thinking is that if the processes are working well then the production will go well. Yet in change and projects, the change agenda/objective is the element on which managers focus (see table).

Example

In one organisation, the director responsible for bringing about a major change in the way the organisation delivered its services realised that he was always giving ‘change agenda’ directives, but never gave thought to the ‘how’ – the strategic process by which the changes would be developed. This, he realised, was why change failed to happen.

Take a few moments out next time you are in a workshop (no one will notice that you have mentally dropped out of the conversation!) and simply watch and listen to people; you will be amazed how much emphasis is on the change agenda and how little attention is given to the strategic process. Much of what people say refines the change agenda and elicits sub-elements, but this should not be confused with strategic process.

We will talk later about the nature of the change agenda and how difficult it can become, but for now, we need to recognise the difference between change agenda and strategic process.

Strategic process

Strategic process encompasses the format and the models and tools that the strategic facilitator uses with the organisation to help achieve an outcome. Tactical facilitators tend primarily to use tools and techniques. Strategic facilitators tend to use models.

Models

Models provide the strategic process framework with which to tackle strategic issues. Tools are the mechanism for tackling the issues within that context. Later we will introduce a number of models and tools for the strategic facilitator to use.

Expertise

Strategic facilitators are experts in designing the strategic process for a series of workshops/events/meetings and so on to deliver the desired change. In fact, to be a strategic facilitator you need to know a wide range of models and tools, what their purpose is, when to use them and how to use them. You then need to match these to the strategic process capability of the organisation and the degree of uncertainty of the situation.

So what is strategic process? Put simply, strategic process provides the means of addressing the change agenda, of finding ways to make headway. It offers, just as it does in a manufacturing environment, the means of production. It takes raw materials (ideas and thoughts) and turns them into a finished product with the minimum of waste (effort) and the maximisation of the resources (people’s time). That is why it is always such a waste when people sit in a workshop and have nothing to say and no opportunity to contribute effectively. They know that there is no point in them being there, yet they dutifully take their place and contribute nothing. As such, they are wasting valuable resource. Imagine what a factory manager would say if, as they went round the production line, they saw raw materials laying unused (ideas abandoned)! If they saw people doing nothing and waste on the floor (time and energy)! We need to harness strategic process in order to have an effective production line.

Strategic process is the means of production, not the product, nor the raw materials, but it does take raw materials and turn them into finished product. In the same way that, if you looked at a production line, you would see machinery which was taking the raw material and turning it into product, so, in a workshop, you would see carefully designed pieces of strategic process which were turning the raw material (of ideas and thoughts) into a solution, a decision, an outcome. If you go in a factory you should be amazed at how cleverly designed the machines are. In the same way, you should be able to look into a workshop (room) and see a cleverly-designed strategic process that is working to make solutions and decisions.