This is where “the rubber hits the road” in change management or project team efforts. Kotter describes this step as  Empowering Others to Act on the Vision  and HBR (Harvard Business Review) breaks this step down into 3 key streams of activity: - Getting rid of obstacles to change – Changing systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision – Encouraging risk taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions 

Kotter Model – Step 5 – Empowering Others To Act On The Vision

If you are a fan of Norton & Kaplan, The Execution Premium  is probably already on your bookshelf. If not, and driving execution is important to you, I highly recommend you go out and get this book. You can preview this book on Google Book Search  here. You can also find  Execution Premium  on Amazon if you want to pick it up now – whether you have 2 years or 20 years experience in the field, I can guarantee you will learn something from this well written guide on execution. So what's this about blockers? This is beginning to sound like a game of college football! 

Not unlike football, if you want your people to be able to “run the plays” the playing field needs to be clear of obstacles – usually people, competing projects or hidden agenda's – the poison pill for any project, if not dealt with switfly!

Well, remember that  guiding coalition  from Step #2? Time for them to “step up to the plate” (please, no more sports metaphors!) and remove all blockers from the path of execution. What are blockers? Well, a blocker could be psychological in nature – people could be fearful or hesitant to step “outside the box”, and may need to be told or shown that it is OK, and “expected” for them to do so! In other cases, Blockers could be individuals, other projects or even an organizational structure that is very “prescriptive” and limiting in nature. Often it can also be performance or reward structures (e.g. compensation) that are not aligned with the “new direction or vision” and result in people having to choose between “the vision” and “the performance measurement system”. In Change Management circles, a popular tool that is used to assist with the identification and actioning around “blockers” to change is the Change Readiness Assessment  survey. A quick  google search  on this will yield plenty of source material. With some digging, I came across this  sample PDF survey  from the University of Georgia, which if completed by the Guiding Coaliition, is very informative to the development of a Communication plan that includes not just passive communication methods, but also more active “change agent” communication activities. 

A good example of where more “active” communication activities might be required could be in the case of where a senior executive or manager, not included in the Guiding Coalition, wields enough power or influence such that their own desire “not to change” (whether out of fear or lack of agreement with the vision as stated or understood) puts the project execution at risk. This individual may hold or control critical resources (whether people or money) that are required as part of the change or project execution effort. Confronting these “blockers”, and if required “removing them”, is not something necessarily “easy or pleasant” to execute, but that is where leadership and managerial courage come in. Those among the Guiding Coalition, need to make the tough decisions or have the difficult conversations to keep the project or change activity moving forward. 

For those of you familiar with  Six Sigma  or related Continuous Improvement frameworks, in reading this last paragraph, might have their thoughts land on the Stakeholder Assessment  tool. The SA tool is basically a process where you walk through each of your stakeholders, which are individuals that are either directly or indirectly impacted by the project or change activity that will be taking place. As each Stakeholder is itemized on a “grid”, their “support” or “alignment” to the team's goals and vision are qualitatively defined by the team. This will provide clarity around where there may need to be specific communication or change agent “activity” targetted to get those individuals “who have not seen the light”, come out from the “dark side”, or perhaps just the “shadows”, which would not be as far a walk. Though  iSixSigma  is never a bad place to consult in all matters 6s related, I always send folks over to TechRepublic and  this article that covers off Stakeholder Assessment in a straightforward and very “pragmatic” way, complete with templates and links to other related and useful resources. Something to keep in mind about “Stakeholder Assessments” – the recommendation is that this 'instrument' be kept confidential, as an “internal team tool” and not shared outside of the project/working team structure. It tends to contain rather “sensitive” information, around people's norms, personality style, or perception of power and control, that without the right context, could derail individuals therin mentioned, to that “point of no return”.

 The Summary So two big themes here: 

1. Empower  others to act, which often involves “removing obstacles”. This keeps your team “engaged” and deflects the otherwise destructive “frustration” involved when teams are unable to execute, and there is insufficient leadership or courage (or perhaps enough power) in the Guiding Coalition to effectively do what needs to be done. 

2. “Credibility” – your Guiding Coalition was made up of individuals that wielded power or influence in the company, and also carried with them some respect and/or goodwill that is critical as these “change agents” go forth and communicate the vision. This means they need to “walk the talk” and not take for granted that associates can clearly “connect the dots” between action and alignment to strategy and vision. This means you need to 'talk through' actions & decisions (particularly those tough ones that impact people's roles), doing so in a respectful and consistent manner, with the vision, corporate culture and values model within your organization. Change is not easy. Poorly managed change is that much harder.
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{Note: This article was originally posted on the 2009 Blogging Idol blog in March 2009}

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