Domino Before You Bingo

There are five domino blocks that need to fall over before you can kick-off a large-scale organizational change program.  What’s more: there is a specific order and distance that works best.

The Five Blocks

Maybe I’d better put a disclaimer before you read any further. A sort of statement that warns you that writing about the starting conditions of a program does not make you immune for missing them – even if it looks as easy as five domino blocks.

So without further ado, here they are:

  1. Sponsorship: Being a fan of the program is not enough. You need someone with the sanctioning power to drive the change all the way through the implementation, i.e.: not only propelling the program out of the harbor, but navigating it all the way to the destination.
    Sponsorship is about providing the required level of commitment and support to deliver on the promise. This can only be done by someone who has the ultimate control over the resources of your program. (I strongly recommend Daryl Conner’s blog for in-depth knowledge on sponsorship)
  2. Identity: When the journey is long and the destination is far, people will need something to connect to. This is why program branding is important. Mind you: I did not say ‘advertising’.
    When I say ‘identity’, I refer to the level of community-building that is needed for people to place their trust upon an uncertain future. The ‘brand’ or ‘identity’ of a program works like an emotional bank account: people make deposits and do withdrawals to the same extent as you stick to the promises of your brand. (I have borrowed the concept of an emotional bank account from Stephen Covey’s ‘Seven Habits‘)
  3. Ownership: When the program is big you will need a team to make it happen. But that’s not all: you will also need a team to own it and to maintain it AFTER the program arrived at its destination. People need a social architecture that helps them to connect and share their knowledge.
    Building such a community is not easy because it is not done with the pressure of authority. Rather, it is done with the gradual and consistent work of going local, being there, and connecting.
  4. Urgency: This is the ‘now’ when a change is needed. It all comes down to defining what ‘now’ is. Therefore the sponsor needs to have a vision that is broad enough to communicate the destination, and narrow enough to communicate that there is no alternative. (This is where John Kotter’s work on the different types of Urgency comes in handy)
  5. Parallel Projects: I sometimes nickname them as ‘killer whales’; i.e.: social animals who can kill your program. At the start of a program it is very unpopular to start listing all the parallel projects that may possibly hinder the program. It is very uncomfortable to state that other projects will either need to stop or redirect even before your program has delivered any tangible result.
    Yet I recommend to start this conversation as soon as possible, because killer whales will socially swim along your boat as long as your speed and power is not a threat to them. After that, … well…,  that’s a different episode of Free Willy.

The Order Matters

There is a logical order these domino blocks should be placed in. This is the order in which the first domino block will push against the second. The third block will be pushed by the combined energy of the first and the second, and so on.

Domino before you bingo

This is how it goes for change programs:

  1. Make sure that the sponsor of the program is visibly in charge and publicly commits to the program;
  2. Build a brand by connecting it to how people experience the program. No matter how hyped the name of your program; no matter how dull the logo of your initiative; what matters is the stories that people will tell about it.
    Make sure that you brand the program though the stories they tell – and not through the advertising of some expensive external agency (have them create the logo, but let them stop there; the tagline should be yours!);
  3. Make sure that the appointed owners of the program AND the future owners of the end-state are included in the creation of the brand. Amplify their stories and connect them as early on as you possibly can.
    Also: free up their time (hint: only a true sponsor with sanctioning power can do that);
  4. Build a case for change. Please make sure you use the right arguments in the correct order: speak to the heart, then to the head, and eventually to the hands;
  5. Be ruthless about parallel projects. Cram the image of a killer whale into the head of your sponsor as soon as you can. Tame them before they kill you.

The Distance Matters

In order to create momentum for your program, these domino blocks need to stand close to one another. This means that the distance between each block should be a maximum of weeks, not months! Else a domino block will fall over and create no effect on the next one. Timing does matter: compression will generate energy from one block to the next.

  • Gail Severini

     Great points! Love the notion of “compression” – so true.

  • Thanks Gail.
    To be honest, this blogpost resulted from a client conversation. As I was summarizing the constraints that we discussed during the meeting I couldn’t resist noticing that we’re not yet ready to ‘Bingo’.

  • And if you don’t think ownership is necessary, remember this quote from Merlin Mann:

    If a project doesn’t have an owner, it’s like a chainsaw on a rope swing. Why would anyone even go near that?

  • That’s a strong quote … and unfortunately true…
    Thanks Jan!