The burning platform is a concept well known in planning and leadership circles. Essentially, it speaks to human nature. Itâ€™s the concept that if you are sitting on a platform that is literally on fire, your motivation to do something to address it would be extremely high. The degree of heat for most people is proportional to their degree of motivation. Generally speaking, people want to do something important and be part of a winning team, but the degree of personal motivation varies greatly by person.
For your organization to do anything significant, there needs to be a sense of where youâ€™re going, and a strong impetus to go there. Some people bring the heat on their own, while others require an environment that creates the heat for them. Old-school leadership would manufacture heat in the form of fear, which only serves to bring out the most negative human and cultural behaviors. True leaders bring about the heat through compelling vision and opportunity.
And now to the recipe: Oxygen, heat and fuel.
The oxygen for your fire is the culture within your organization. Itâ€™s what allows the fire to exist.
The fuel for your fire is the metrics that speak to the truth and create proper accountability. Metrics speak to exactly what you are trying to create in terms of outcomes, and creates accountability to make it happen.
The heat is the executive leadership. The heat is what is required when parts of the organization push back against the strategy. The heat is what is demonstrated when executives are seen to truly lead the change. It creates an environment where expectations are clearly understood.
Most of us have lived through mismanaged change. We carry these experiences forward into our current paradigm. Itâ€™s important to learn from them, but not allow them to make us risk averse. How hot is the platform at your organization? Maybe itâ€™s time to start playing with matches?
Itâ€™s a well known fact that executive and senior level support for any change initiative is absolutely essential when setting a project up for success. Now when the new idea first surfaces, people may not all jump on board at first glimpse, thereâ€™s an internalization and a testing phase that people go through to determine whether itâ€™s a valid opportunity or not. During this phase youâ€™ll probably run into at least seven different types of people:
– The natural leader: Those who take up the banner and help lead the charge
– The skeptic: The leader who sees a different strategic path for the company, and doesnâ€™t fully agree with what youâ€™ve proposed
– The supporter: Those who have been waiting for this change to come, and are prepared to align
– The daily grinder: Those who are too busy with day to day operations to engage in future-potential-enhancing change
– The wise council: Those who see something you donâ€™t, and provide guidance that helps you become more successful
– The disengaged: Those who arenâ€™t engaged in the success of the organization, and want to be left alone
– The sniper: The individual who never fully verbalizes support nor objections, but pops up out of nowhere to take shots at what youâ€™re trying to accomplish
So while each of these characters begs a question of how best to engage them, Iâ€™m going to focus on the sniper. The sniper is differentiated by passive-aggressive behavior. It is both their defining characteristic, as well as their camouflage.
So how do you deal with a sniper?
Itâ€™s important to draw out a sniper as early as possible through either a stage gate where absolute commitment to a concept is required, or through interaction with a more senior leader who creates clear expectations around support. Absolute support followed by shared accountability for the outcome of the project is great way of getting all the cards on the table and ensuring everyone has some â€œskin in the game.â€
Clearly define the change, create dissatisfaction with the current state, build a project charter, create clarity, allow people opportunities to understand and have input, and create shared accountability for success. When everyone has been heard, and when success creates a mutual benefit, youâ€™re more likely to convert people from those characters who oppose success to those who have your back.
Depending on your industry, there are all kinds of reasons why people purchase. Amusement, status, functionality and necessity are but a few. Understanding purchase intent is key to being able to strengthen relevance with any customer group, because itâ€™s what causes them to pay attention to you, or not. If youâ€™re not relevant, your degree of prominence doesnâ€™t even come into question.
In the consulting world, internal or external, your first barrier is often whether the (potential) customer has made a correlation between you and their success. They canâ€™t buy the solution before they buy the problem. Once they buy the problem, you have an opportunity to convince them that you are their best bet for driving their business forward.
By vouching for you, the customer puts their own credibility on the line, hence your job is pretty clear. Once they see you as the solution to their problem, their attention span will grow considerably.
Iâ€™ll use a phrase coined by someone else to set this up, because I like how it captures the thought. â€œAre you part of the problem or part of the solution?â€ Aside from those who are working hard to make change, there will often also be those inside the company who for various reasons resist what youâ€™re trying to accomplish. Of course there are those who are actively in the way of change, and those who are passively in the way. For the purposes of this discussion, Iâ€™m going to set aside the third group of people who are trying to bring change, but are pursuing an idea which is genuinely not beneficial (and people can see it).
Those who are actively in the way are usually pretty easy to spot. They may not have a good reason to not support the change, but theyâ€™ll bring out multiple unrelated barriers in discussions over time. They try to kill momentum. And then there are the passives. Passives may not outright disagree with you in discussion but they donâ€™t get behind the idea to help form the critical mass you need to create momentum. They ignore the change, and hope it will go away.
Now to the point: When people are in your way, itâ€™s important to stop to understand why. It could be that they donâ€™t care enough to help, or that they are just â€œthat kind of person,â€ but itâ€™s not safe to assume either of the two. Remember that strategy is about change, and change is about people. Perhaps these people see something you havenâ€™t yet noticed, and perhaps you havenâ€™t taken enough time to help them understand why the opportunity is important. Double back and get them on side, or better yet collaborate and adjust your plan to include their ideas.
Your responsibility is not just to identify the course, but to help people follow you there. In order to gain support, people need to agree with why youâ€™re going there, and why itâ€™s worth the effort. Provide people with the opportunity to be a part of the ultimate success that will be experienced when all is said and done.
When positioned differently, these people just might surprise you!
One of the organizationally determined glass ceilings that exists which often holds back the resistance is the degree of incrementalism that management ascribe to.
Definition of incrementalism: A type of decision-making strategy that reacts to short-term imperfections in existing policies rather than establishing long-term future goals. Decisions are made on a sequential basis and do not radically depart from existing policy.
Of course, in many industries, stability is a very important perception to maintain with employees, investors and customers. But then we get to the point of this entry when does this become a major strategic problem for an organization? Implementing bold moves first requires big, bold thinking. My belief is that this whole issue becomes a corporate risk when the ideas stop flowing, when people stop thinking big. Opportunity based discussions disappear, and stagnancy sets in. It’s like someone just hit the cruise button.
People who are more cautious can be threatened by those who think big. It’s perceived as creating risk, and if long-term cycles of relevance aren’t considered, it’s tough to find a reason to take those changes on. The reality is that the future is not predetermined, and your corporate success is not guaranteed. The degree of potential your organization chooses to capture is entirely determined by how big and sharp your thinking is. And your relevance isn’t determined by how big your moves are, but rather how big and sharp they are within the context of your competitors.
A simpler question is whether your organization has a real hunger for greater performance.