Leading Change

Leading Change Starts with Planning the Change

There’s the Hard Part of change – the processes, the procedures, the structure, the planning. That’s the management skills part. Then, there’s the Soft Part of change – how people respond and transition through the change. That’s the leadership skills part.

When we first wrote “Enlightened Leadership: Getting the Heart of Change,” we only addressed the people issues, because that is what we felt, and still do, is so often missing. As we got deeply involved with major change initiatives, however, we realized that the effectiveness of the upfront planning (management) of a change initiative makes the transitions of the people (leadership) much easier.

This article focuses on the first step of the planning process, which is focusing on the Primary Organizational Systems – Strategy, Structure and Behavior.

Enlightened Leadership Dynamic Change Management Model™

Simply put, strategy is both where you’re going, your objective, and how you plan to get there. It is based on assumptions about the situation. If my strategy is to get home quickly and safely from the mountains of Colorado on a Sunday afternoon, part of the strategy is to use Interstate 70 highway as my approach for accomplishing the goal. If we get to Georgetown and see nothing but brake lights and stopped cars for miles ahead, we realize our assumption that I-70 is the fastest way to go is incorrect. At that point, if you know the local highways, you shift the “how” of the strategy to the surface roads going through numerous communities.

Structure is another of the three Primary Organizational Systems that must be addressed in any change initiative. Made up of the systems, processes and procedures, the structure must be in alignment with the strategy. If the procedures say do one thing, and the strategy requires doing something else, we have a problem.

Behavior is the third of the Primary Organizational Systems. Behaviors are the people side of the equation. If the people are moving in a direction opposed to the strategy, we’ll never accomplish the goal.

So, as we plan a change initiative, we must work with these three organizational systems to make sure that the Strategy is doable and that the Behaviors and Structure are in alignment with, and supportive of, that Strategy. The three are interdependent parts of a single system, and we can realistically only work with one of them at a time.

That brings us to the Theory of Constraints, introduced in the book of that title by the late Ely Goldratt. Goldratt rightfully suggests that any system has it’s weakest link, or the greatest constraint to the strength of the entire system.

If we securely attach a heavy chain between two large trucks and gradually move the trucks away from each other, the chain will tighten and eventually break. Where will it break?

Theory of Constraints

The chain will break at it’s weakest link. The greatest constraint to the strength of the entire truck – chain – truck system, then, is that one link. If you fix that link and make it very strong, the next time you do the experiment, the chain will break at a different place, the new weakest link. Every time you make the weakest link stronger, the whole system gets stronger and the greatest constraint changes.

Back to our change initiative, we need to know which of the three Primary Organizational Systems is the greatest constraint to the strength of the system, because that is what we must strengthen in order to make the entire system stronger. It is unrealistic to think we can work on more than one of the systems at a time, because a change in one of the three systems affects the other systems, too.

We want to share a simple tool to help you decide which of the three systems in your specific change initiative is the weakest link. While the whole system is complex, we believe you must look at it simply.

The tool is a set of effective questions for each of the Primary Organizational Systems. By answering these questions, preferably as a team of key parties to the change, you can get some perspective about the weakest link. When you get that clarity, that’s the first system on which you should focus your management skills, and perhaps, your leadership skills.

Here are the questions by system:


  • Where are your greatest challenges to accomplishing the change?


  • How clear is the goal of objective? For others, not just you?
  • How clear is the approach to achieving the goal or objective?
  • Has the direction or directives changed so that it requires us to redefine our goals and approach?
  • Are the assumptions you are making, for the goal and the approach to achieve that goal, proven or do they need to be tested?


  • Does the current organizational structure support the strategy?
  • How well do the systems that are currently in place support the goal or objective?
  • How well do current policies and procedures motivate the right behavior?
  • How do you (or will you) measure progress and success?


  • How clear is everyone on the goal or objective?
  • Do people clearly understand what is expected of them?
  • To what degree are people aligned and committed to a common mission?
  • In what phase of transition are your people?
  • How well can people link their efforts to successful organization strategies and results?
  • Where are your people generally focused – on the goal or on the problems?
  • Are people on your team more proactive or reactive?

As our clients have used this tool in real-world situations, sometimes the teams could only narrow to two systems that seem to be equally “weakest links.” If that happens, what do you think you should do?

Our suggestion: just pick one and move forward to strengthen it! If they are that equal, it really doesn’t matter. Now, if I think two of the systems are equally constraining to the whole system, I’m going to focus first on the one I feel most comfortable in addressing, the one I feel most confident in “fixing,” or the easiest to fix.

Then, once you’ve strengthened a leg of the triangle, go back and retest for the next greatest constraint. It’s possible that it has now changed, as the three systems are so interdependent. Or, you might find that another component of the same leg is now the weakest link.

To download this article, a worksheet and the right to use it in your own situation, go HERE.

                 ©2012 Enlightened Leadership Solutions, Inc.
6334 S.Racine Cir., suite 200
Centennial, CO  80111
303-729-0540  800-798-9881



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