A simple model for change

Business Models can help or hinder. Some are so impenetrable that they defy all efforts to understand them. Some are so trivial that they don’t increase understanding at all. I picked up a simple yet helpful one a number of years ago, which is great for covering the important factors when getting started with a change initiative. At that time it was called the four box model, but a colleague subsequently added a fifth box (thanks Jim!) Now, there’s a bargain: 25% extra, at no extra cost!

The first four boxes are essential if you are to drive change forward. They are:

  • clear need for change. This is a strong statement of what’s wrong with the way things are, expressed in terms that can be understood by anyone who is involved in the change;
  • An unambiguous, common, shared vision of the future. This is the target that you are aiming for. It should be powerfully expressed in terms that all interested parties can understand, and state the benefits that will be realised;
  • Sufficient resources to allow the change to be managed. These resources could be any or all of people, money, equipment, skills, time, or facilities, or anything else that you might need to make the change happen. (Note that this is not the same as having the required resources to operate after the change has been implemented – that’s a different thing entirely.)
  • A realistic, achievable plan. It may be only a plan for a plan, or it could be a full plan for the entire change project. Either way, it needs to be clear, easily understood, and at an appropriate level of detail.

If any one of these is missing, the change will not happen as you intend.

  • Without the strong need for change, the doubters will be able to say “Why bother?”, and the doubt will spread.
  • Without a single, shared vision, you may have the commitment to change, but you won’t have a direction. Different people will end up either pulling against each other or dragging the project into areas that it should not go.
  • Without resources, people may want to change, but they will either try and then fail, or they won’t even try because they are too busy doing their day jobs.
  • Finally, without a plan, people will do “something”, but probably the wrong “something”. Think of headless chickens running around in all directions.

So, where does the fifth box sit? The fifth box is resistance to change, and it sits on the opposite side of the scales from the other four. There is always resistance, and the fifth box can be a very large box indeed. For the change to take place, the total size of the first four boxes must be bigger than the fifth box. The strange thing is that as you make the first four boxes bigger and stronger, the fifth box will automatically and inevitably shrink. If you can make a sufficiently compelling case for a change, then resistance will fade away.

This model does not tell you how to make change happen, but I find that it helps me to focus on the things that really matter when trying to instigate business (or any other) changes. If I’m struggling to get sufficient buy-in, I inevitably find that one of the first four boxes is inadequate, and it is usually easy to identify which one needs work. This also avoids wasted effort on areas that are already strong: for example, there’s no point in improving a plan that is already excellent, if what’s holding you back is poor communication of the vision!

Here is a practical example that has nothing to do with work. Imagine you want to go to France on holiday, rather than to your usual villa in Spain, but your partner isn’t convinced.

  • Box 1: You want to change your holiday destination because the villa is getting shabby, is surrounded by new high-rise hotels, and the price has risen massively since last year.
  • Box 2: The place in France will give you a pool on the premises, easy access to a quiet beach, is on a bus route into town, and has several highly rated restaurants within walking distance.
  • Box 3: Your local travel agent knows the area, has several brochures that list suitable premises, and reviews of most of these are available on the internet. You and your partner have time to study these and come to a decision.
  • Box 4: You plan to collect some brochures and have set aside a couple of hours to do an initial review of these, and then let your partner see what you have been doing. You also have a friend who loves France, and you have invited him round to the house for a drink.., and some holiday discussions. Sounds like a cunning plan to me!

But don’t forget:

  • Box 5: Your partner likes to return to familiar surroundings, loves to browse round the local markets in Spain, speaks some Spanish, and doesn’t speak any French. That’s the French resistance!

Is Box 5 so big that you won’t make the change, or are the other boxes big enough to make the change happen? Are the other four boxes sufficient to persuade your partner to try a new destination? If the answer is “no”, you need to create a stronger case to go to La Belle France. If the answer is “yes”, then Bon Voyage!

Iain Millar, 1 June 2011

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