All too often, strategic change is associated only with its visible and symbolic aspects, i.e. the day when the executive announces a change of strategy, marking a salutary break, … necessarily salutary.
However, strategic change must first and foremost be seen as a process. As Antoine Riboud, founder of Danone, once said: “You only discover a company’s true strategy once the teams have implemented it on the ground”.
To understand this process of strategic change, which is always associated with a change of World© , Kurt Lewin (pioneer of “Organisational Development” 1890 -1947) suggests three stages, which have become classics:
- Firstly, the Freeze, which corresponds to the realisation by company players (directors, shareholders, managers, etc.) of the need to change. The status quo is shaken. In this phase, it is essential to examine current and historical representations, the “taboos” of the company. How do we think about our strategy? In what current (and often historical) world are our ideas formatted?
- Then there is Movement, which is the implementation of change within the company. It is characterised by strong instability, between two phases of stability. This phase represents an uprooting from the previous situation. It is essentially based on the ability to think about a strategy in another World, the Target World, which enables a new strategy to be thought out and its execution to be fluid.
- Finally, the Refreeze marks the anchoring of change in the day-to-day running of the business. It is the return to a new, stable situation and its entrenchment over time. The embedding phase involves transforming the new ways of operating resulting from the Target World into routines.
While management’s attention is focused on the first two phases, the last phase is under-invested, because management does not know what to do, as it is caught between the two Worlds, the Current World (existing, established, demographically very much in the majority) and the Target World (still abstract, recent, demographically very much in the minority).
To do this, they need to deploy “Bridges” – new routines – that enable them to move from the current World to the Target World: Bridges that are emblematic of the Target World and visible in the current World. Certain “current” routines remain essential for stabilisation: not everything changes. The current World evolves to a greater or lesser extent as it becomes the Target World. As a Melanesian poem puts it, “The pirogue is built from the tree”.
Strategic change, the transition from one World to another, is embodied by Leaders, more precisely for P-VAL by the “Creators of a World to which others want to belong”.
The role of these Leaders-Creators of Worlds varies depending on whether the strategic change is :
- prescribed, deliberate, top-down. Here, the leader plays the central role of visionary – designer of the Target World. His charisma in federating and embodying the Target World is the driving force behind the implementation of strategic change
- emergent, diffuse, bottom-up. The leader does not have a clear vision of the target, but he or she has picked up on weak signals from the field, both internally and externally. In this way, they act as a catalyst for the collective construction of the Desired World. He mobilises groups of players, particularly the middle management, who will design and implement the change.
In the context of unbridled competition and crises that characterise our environments, the return to a stable, sustainable situation is rather … illusory. For many companies, instability is becoming the rule and stability the exception!
Change is now being replaced by… change. This is precisely why we need to think in terms of the World in the medium term and build Bridges in the short term.
Clarifying the Target world reassures teams and enables them to reconfigure their representations.
Agile Bridges over a period of 3 to 6 months make it possible to stick to the challenges by delivering concrete results.
In short, the Strategic Plan exercise is increasingly becoming a continuous process which needs a medium-term Vision and Target World to guide rapid adjustment actions.