Change Leadership Challenge 2: Compelling Business Case

This is the second in a series of posts about change leadership. The previous post covered active, committed leadership.

What motivates you to change? I'm pretty easy; cake does the trick. Image by YvonneL on flickr.

What motivates you to change? I’m pretty easy; cake does the trick. Image by YvonneL on flickr.

Here’s a hypothetical question: Which of the following would better motivate you to rearrange your entire schedule for the day?

(A) Your boss says, “Our most important client is coming in from France and we need your product expertise at the meeting,” or

(B) your boss says, “Would you to look into software as a service? It may help improve our bottom line.”

You’re probably drawn to A. It’s clear, precise, significant and immediate.

Too often, leaders introduce the rationale for their change efforts in murky terms like, “It will help improve our bottom line” and then expect employees to jump to action. Why should they? They don’t understand exactly what the project is, how it will help or how it will affect their work.

The second factor in successful change leadership is creating a clear, compelling business case for change. Keep reading to check how well you’re doing.

Communicate Clearly and Compellingly

Workers are more likely to change when the business case is obvious, specific and urgent. You and your implementation team must be able to consistently and compellingly communicate the rationale behind the initiative and the consequences of not changing. Here’s an example of a compelling business case:

If the company doesn’t upgrade to the new system, it won’t be able to process more than 5,000 new customers. And if the company can’t keep growing its customer base, we won’t be able to keep our doors open.

That’s pretty clear: Corporate growth is at stake, and the consequences of not changing will hit the wallets of employees. Business cases like this one get attention.

Find the Real Substance of the Change

Not all changes provide such an easily apparent business case. Sometimes you have to root through superficial reasons to get to the heart of the matter.

For example, superficial reasons for upgrading to a new system might include a strong relationship with the vendor or “the competition is doing it.” Delving deeper leads you to more meaningful motivations, such as the upgrade will create customer service improvements that run circles around the competitors’ customer service efforts.

Anticipate How Change Will Affect Individuals

Perhaps the change will mean more paperwork, better project execution or fewer irate customers. Helping employees understand these impacts aids them in preparing for change. It also helps you understand how hard you’ll need to work and how visible you’ll need to be during the process. For example, if a project will cause significant workflow disruptions or dollars use keep yet will be perceived as busywork, you’ll need to spend more time talking about the business case with employees and setting expectations.

Quick Check: How We­­­ll are You Creating the Case for Change?

Ask yourself the following questions to gauge how well you’re creating the case for change:

  1. Is the change a critical component of the organization’s strategy?
  2. Will the benefits of the change outweigh the time and labor involved in making it happen?
  3. Is the case for change truly compelling and necessary to the organization’s continued evolution and success?
  4. Can you and your change implementation team clearly articulate the reason for change?
  5. Can you explain the impacts of the change at the department level?

If you answered yes to all five questions, you’re on the right track. If you answered no to questions 1 or 2, you and your colleagues need to have a serious discussion about whether the time, effort, disruption and cost of change are worth the effort. If you answered no to questions 3, 4 or 5, you need more clarity on the case for change.

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