Petraeus on Change and Lessons Learned

Still cleaning out the “blog ideas” attic and found this gem.  In this speech to the American Enterprise Institute, Gen. David Petraeus presented the Iraq surge as an organizational change problem.  He has clearly lived the change process, both in theory and practice:

[T]here are four steps to institutional change. First, you have to get the big ideas right–you have to determine the right overarching concepts and intellectual underpinnings. Second, you have to communicate the big ideas effectively throughout the breadth and depth of the organization. Third, you have to oversee implementation of the big ideas–in this case, first at our combat training centers and then in actual operations. And fourth, and finally, you have to capture lessons from implementation of the big ideas, so that you can refine the overarching concepts and repeat the overall process.

This last step — integration of lessons learned into the change process — is the wisdom here, IMO.    Strong performance feedback reinforces the successes of organizational change and remedies dysfunctional elements that threaten the change. Everyone gets the idea that “the side that learns and adapts the fastest often prevails”, which is an effective sound bite to help sell lessons learned.   Closing the loop creates, then reinforces, this virtuous circle of learning and adaptation.

Owning your change program

It has been a while since I’ve checked out my leadership counterparts on Alltop… I found some tasty posts from bloggers I hadn’t seen before.  Melissa Dutmers at Riverfork challenges us to not fall back on conventional wisdom:

…that the greatest contributor to success is “active and visible executive sponsorship” (this is corporate speak meaning high level executives are supposed to inspire and influence their people). I don’t buy it. I believe that the number one success factor for leading change is YOU (emphasis Melissa’s). 

I agree.  The need for executive sponsorship is almost a truism; as Melissa notes, “you need the support of a high-level manager or executive to approve the idea”. 

But can a change leader stop at formal approval?  Are you content with leaving the “active and visible” part of executive sponsorship to the executive him/herself?  For example, do you bother to draft that announcement e-mail or put together talking points for the exec to use with the board?  Do you make the leadership the first part of the communications plan, not the last?

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