Essence of Strategic Change

The Essence of Leading Strategic Change

Leaders need to see Planning and Change as their PRIMARY job in today’s constantly changing, dynamic world we in which we live.  The Core Knowledge, Skills and Ability they need is called the
Systems Thinking Approach® to the ICEBERG THEORY OF CHANGE.


In essence, an iceberg has only about 13% of its mass above the water and visible to see.  In change, this is the Content of the desired changes and desired results—the objectives of the change.


However, below the surface and much less visible to everyone is 87% of the iceberg.  Unfortunately, the key to achieving the Content of the change above the surface depends on what is below the surface, the Processes of Change and the (Infra) Structures of the change.


These three factors—Content, Processes and Structures—are always present in every situation in life since Systems Thinking exposes the fact that this is the natural way the world works.  So, as a Leader and an Executive, your ability to understand and utilize these factors appropriately is key to your success in achieving your desired changes.

To begin to understand them, let’s explore them in more detail:


Content of the Change—It is pretty obvious that, to Lead Strategic Change, you must have a Strategic Plan or at least a Game Plan for the desired changes Enterprise-Wide.


Processes of Change—There are over 20 theories of the change process.  However all you need to know is the Rollercoaster of Change since it is the underlying Framework for all these 20+ theories.  See our separate article on the details of the Rollercoaster.

It is basically a six stage process—a Smart Start beginning (optional)—Shock and Denial—Depression and Anger—Persistence and Hang In (missed by most models)—Hope and Acceptance—and finally Rebuilding (only the last stage of change is where full productivity returns).

The key here is that the Rollercoaster of Change is “Natural, Normal and Highly Predictable”.  Therefore it is all you need to know about change which is an individual, psychological issue.


 Infra-Structures of Change—This is the key to starting to think systemically about change in that “Structures Influence Behaviors” every time.  The current Organization Chart and structure is designed to be lean and efficient in conducting today’s business and achieve its current goals.

Therefore, it follows that the current Chart is often the biggest obstacle to change as it is designed to resistance change and variation (to use a Deming term).

Thus, consciously designing the proper (Infra) Structures for guiding the desired Strategic Change is the first and foremost task to be completed once the desired Change Game Plan/Strategic Plan is clear.  The two most important Structures/Roles are:


(1)   The need for a Change Leadership Team set up and led by the CEO that meets at least monthly to guide the entire Strategic Change.

(2)   The need for a Strategic Management Office with staff leadership/facilitation responsibility for the change in support of the CEO.

They along with a Staff Support Cadre of other key staff functions are key to the success or failure of the desired changes; even if the SMO is just 51% on one key respected person.  Just like any other major function in an organization, the change function needs to be staffed and funded.


Resources for the Change—This leads to the need to provide the staffing, financial and other resources for the change.  Starving it is a way to guarantee failure up front of part of the 75% failure rate in Strategic Change.


Competencies for the Change—Another key variable in Leading Strategic Change comes from the beginning Essence in the first paragraph above– Planning and Change as the PRIMARY job of Leaders.


Therefore, providing that knowledge, skills and ability to understand and use all of this Essence by the senior leaders and collective management of the organization or the Capacity for the change will be underperforming as a minimum—or even be another guarantee of failure up front.


Culture and Commitment—the last and most important Essence of Leading Strategic Change is that any Enterprise-Wide Strategic Change will, by definition, have to deal with some desired changes to your culture and value system.  Thus, the Resources and Competencies and a specific Game Plan to deal with this most rigid and unchanging mental Infra-Structure are crucial.  Why?  “When strategy and Culture collide, Culture wins out every time”.


In Summary—CAPACITY for Strategic Change:

The Essence of Leading Strategic Change is about having the CAPACITY to carry out the desired changes successfully.  See the attached visual Model of the Iceberg Theory of Change as it embodies the five needed factors to have the Capacity to lead Strategic Change and achieve the Desired Content of the change above the waterline of the Iceberg.  These five  factors and the 87% of change effort needed is below the waterline and less visible—yet they collectively are the required CAPACITY for Strategic Change:


  1. Processes of Change
  2. Infra-Structures of Change
  3. Resources for the Change
  4. Competencies for the Change
  5. Culture and Commitment


See the Haines Centre for the Instrument to assess yourself on this required Capacity for Change