Leaders who aspire to activate large-scale change in the interest of reaching strategic business outcomes can often name the characteristics they want to see demonstrated. Innovation, collaboration, a sense of urgency, and agility are likely to top the list. How to evoke and sustain those behaviors is, however, an entirely different challenge.
Infinite examples exist of methods used by leaders to rally people around a change. Many of these approaches effectively generate bursts of energy but are often short-lived. One familiar example is the concept of the burning platform – sparking change by highlighting threats or crisis within the current situation. While this may ignite action, and even deliver some measure of return, the short–lived response is the product of fear rather than optimism and motivation.
Other tactics are most effective at defining longer-term paths toward transformation. Vision statements (evergreen) and strategic plans (3-5+ years), which both play crucial roles in establishing the desired future state, can restrict people’s ability to make connections between how the actions they take today impact the realization of the desired future. This connection is required to create an aligned sense of urgency, a defining trait of change-capable organizations.
Vision and strategy do play an important role in defining the desired future state. The point here is that successful activation of a strategic plan requires something more: a clear articulation of what people see as the window of opportunity for executing their strategy and accelerating toward their vision. In that window of opportunity, individuals must see how they can play a role and feel as though they are truly enabled and equipped to thrive.
What Do We Mean by “Opportunity?”
An opportunity represents what is right here, right now, in front of you at this moment; it is the combination of circumstances facing the organization that creates a rare chance to leap ahead through a transformative change. Opportunity is what motivates and inspires us. It generates excitement about the possibility the future holds and raises awareness of the significant business outcomes that could be achieved if it is exploited with speed and purpose. The ability to articulate the opportunity in both a rational and emotionally compelling way is crucial to engage others throughout the organization. Most importantly, opportunities are not brought to life through mandate or fear, but rather by inviting everyone across all levels of the organization to be a part of realizing what is possible.
An effective opportunity statement focuses on logical possibilities, generates excitement, and promotes engagement. Understanding what internal and external influences are coming together to create the opportunity, why it’s important to act now, and why your organization is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this moment is critical to inspiring others. Additionally, a crisp awareness of what needs to be done differently and what behaviors need to change at the organizational and individual levels is required. Lastly, the benefits and potential drawbacks for all involved must be transparently thought through and clearly articulated.
Articulating The “Big Opportunity”
A “big opportunity” that is emotionally compelling and strategically smart offers a clear picture of what is needed to realize success and has distinct characteristics. It is brief and rational, appealing to the head to address the “what, why, why us, why now, and why bother,” all in a short statement that is easy to share. It is compelling and positive, engaging emotions that inspire optimism, innovation, and creative thought, and appeals to everyone at every level of the organization. An opportunity statement must be authentic to the authors and audience, unambiguous, and easy to internalize. It must also be aligned and connected to the existing strategy, not in conflict with other statements across the organization.
A big opportunity statement that captures the above characteristics will speak to the head and the heart. It addresses the “what” by capturing factors inside and outside the organization that created this window of opportunity, inciting urgency. Through positive emphasis on possibility, it evokes a visceral, emotional response, addressing the uniqueness of the organization as a key to capitalizing on the opportunity. In speaking to the heart, the statement is inclusive: it invites all levels and roles to be a part of the change by creating space for all to see how their action today will contribute to the success of tomorrow.
In essence, a well-articulated statement aligns an organization’s urgency around an opportunity while creating space for employees to shape how success will be achieved. It allows each member of an organization to internalize the opportunity and create their own personal “why,” promoting in people a response of, “We need to do this! I want to be part of this! How do I take action right now?” The confluence of urgency and the personal “why,” oriented around a common purpose, leads to greater alignment between individuals, groups, and the organization. The result? Greater agility, speed, and creativity, accelerating the organization’s capacity to seize their opportunity and achieve strategic change.