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November 7, 2012

Why it's important for them to say "I do"

Posted by Mukul Gupta (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:55 AM

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My story begins with a plan in a Scandinavian country to expand its railway system. If you've ever talked to people in countries like Sweden, Denmark and Norway, you know Scandinavians take great pride in their public transportation systems - especially rail. Even though these countries have relatively small populations with high per capita automobile ownership, people nevertheless enjoy travelling by train because of how easy and economical it can be. The rail system in Scandinavia is so successful that a couple of years ago, one of the governments wanted to expand certain stretches of its system to two tracks from just one.

The first phase of the railway expansion was met with resistance from community groups who believed that doubling the number of tracks in certain densely populated urban areas was a bad idea. They instead advocated re-routing the tracks away from the dense neighbourhoods to relatively unpopulated areas a few miles away. Lucky for the project, the transit authority had a good command of the importance of stakeholder management. What they quickly deduced is that mostly everyone in the country was in favour of an improvement to the rail system. What some stakeholders objected to was merely the expansion in a high-density area. Transit officials deferred the project until they could find an alternative route. They reasoned that although the project would be delayed a bit in the short-term, the solution would have a buy-in from the most crucial stakeholder - the user. Contrast that with the other option: going forward with the project without taking into consideration the objections of a sizeable number of stakeholders. Even though the project might be finished on time (that is, provided community groups did not take legal measures to block or delay the new construction) a percentage of the population would remain unhappy with the outcome. Now, here's what is equally interesting: When it was time for the transit authority to think about the second phase of its expansion, they made certain that they engaged all stakeholders early on and explained the advantages of the expansion. The result was that there was little or no opposition to any of its construction plans.

Now, consider this situation. When executing a technology-led transformation program, go up to any line manager and say to me, "You've got this big thing going on here. What's the vision? Paint a picture for me. How's the company going to be any different in the next 12 to 18 months when this is done?" Several times, they can't even see it. So, of course, they couldn't have bought into it. And if they havn't, will the transformation program really deliver on its true potential?

Beyond superficial change management awareness creation and training, how much time and energy do enterprises really invest in stakeholder engagement before-during-after transformation? Is the transformation partner able and willing to take on the lead role to ensure stakeholder adoption as an integral part of the transformation initiative? I believe these are crucial questions that the business must ask before embarking on that transformation journey.

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