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If You Build It, Will They Come?

07 Jan
If you build it, he will come.

If you build it, he will come. Photo: Universal Pictures

For many guys of a certain age, the line “If you build it, he will come” is instantly recognizable.

A seminal moment from the 1989 Kevin Costner film ‘Field of Dreams’, it turns out to mean that if Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, builds a baseball field in his corn he will have the opportunity to rebuild his relationship with his father.  And while it’s memorable for women too, this is principally a father / son / sports thing that transcends any rational explanation.

This instant familiarity is one of the reasons that the line has been paraphrased (sometimes simply as a joke, but also sometimes in earnest) into a management ‘axiom’ that if you set a strategic objective with clear goals and attainable benefits that people understand, then they will naturally gravitate towards it.  “If you build it, they will come”.

Clearly not only is this simplistic view of Change Management wrong, it is positively dangerous.  So much for life imitating art.

Miss Boo - poster girl for DotCom excess

Miss Boo – A salutary lesson in thinking a good idea is all it takes

That is not to say that people will naturally shy away from a good idea.  Venture capitalists will frequently consider first mover advantage as a key factor in making the decision to invest in a completely new business.  Indeed, early this century the emerging DotCom economy provided multiple examples of how first mover advantage was considered to be of primary importance – that having a good idea for filling a gap in the market was almost a guarantee of success if only a company could “get big fast“.

Of course, this was never really the only requirement and when the DotCom bubble burst and investment decisions matured, the tried and tested measurements once again reestablished their importance.  The objective has to be clear, the product or service benefits inescapable, the gap in the market obvious, the customer need well documented, the management skills and experience proven and – most importantly – the financial modeling sound and the ROI expectations reasonable.  If those requirements are met, then and only then does first mover advantage start to carry some weight.

But what about when the case for change, for establishing a new strategic goal, is one that relates to an existing business?  A business that has scale, history, embedded culture but that nonetheless needs to adapt to meet the emerging challenges or capitalize on new opportunities within a particular business sector.

A new competitor, the emergence of new technology, changing consumer preferences or legislation, to name but a few, can all throw a wrench into the workings of an existing, profitable and successful organization, or provide it with ways to enhance its ability to compete.

And of course in many cases, forward-looking organizations will be actively seeking ways to improve their performance, to increase their market penetration or to lower their costs before being faced with a business imperative to do so.  In such ways are great companies built – the ideal time to consider how the business can be improved is not when change is forced on it by external pressures, but proactively, while there is time for maneuver, time to model the options and measure their potential.

Good to Great, by Jim Collins

Good to Great – sound strategic decisions, equally sound implementation

In his excellent 2001 book ‘Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Other Don’t‘, Jim Collins took a group of companies that, for one reason or another, were able to take advantage of a business opportunity or new way of thinking to deliver financial results that saw them outperform a control group of direct comparison companies.

Moreover, they were able to sustain that performance for at least 15 years, a time period that transcends a single new product, or a single visionary CEO, or an extended period of sector-wide growth.

But whether one is facing an immediate external pressure to change or seeking to further improve an already healthy position in order that a business will be better able to meet any potential future challenges, the key hurdle to overcome is that of thinking that recognizing the opportunity and establishing a roadmap and timeline to deliver the benefits is the main challenge.   This is the key pitfall of the “If you build it, they will come” mentality.

Up to 75% of change projects fail

Up to 75% of change projects fail

Over the next few days, I’ll be blogging about some of the key challenges of organizational change, and how communications is a critical enabler that will frequently make the difference between failure and success.

Wherever you look for information about the success rate of business change projects, the figures you will normally see quoted are that between two-thirds and three-quarters of all projects fail.  And with at least two-thirds of competitors failing, consider for a moment the vast opportunities available to those organizations that do it right.

There are a number of communications rules that need to be considered when enabling change within an organization.  They’re not concepts that are hard to understand, and in fact the vast majority can be seen as good old fashioned common sense, but they are nonetheless concepts that are frequently overlooked.

In the blog posts that follow, I’ll be listing what I consider some of these key rules to be.  In doing so, I’ll describe why I consider them important, provide examples and observations, and where possible I’ll also include comments or advice from third parties that I consider to be particularly useful.

Throughout them all please remember that this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, merely a number of key principles that I personally have found to be useful in running communications within change programs over a number of years for both new companies and established multinationals.

Communications is often the last thing to be recognized as having had a positive impact when a change program is successful.  Conversely, it is one of the first to be blamed when the change fails.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

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