The Path of Intent Management

From the Change Thinking Blog
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Despite all the business change knowledge uncovered during the last 50 years, many seasoned change management professionals still aren’t adequately prepared to serve those trying to navigate their way through today’s turbulence. Change Thinking is an effort to have an exchange with, and be part of, a community of practitioners committed to raising the level of their game and that of the field of change execution.

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Categories: Intent


In my last post, I said that, as practitioners, we sometimes devote more time getting people to change than we spend on the change itself, and that having a complete, concise, understandable, and compelling statement of intent is critically important to achieving change success. I’d like to say more here about managing the intent process.

When important projects are not orchestrated effectively, they sometimes melt down or never get off the ground. More often, what happens is that installation occurs, but not realization. In other words, something is put into place, but it doesn’t attain the hoped-for result.

A solution reaches its promised end state when it fully achieves the ultimate desired outcome. Only then does an organization realize the value of its investment in a solution. Realization is about accomplishing what was originally agreed to when the money was allocated to build or buy the solution. Like installation, realization involves identifiable, quantifiable indicators of success. Unlike installation, however, it also has subjective, though still measurable, aspects—the taste, feel, and smell of the solution’s desired effect. To some people, these aspects sound too “soft” to be meaningful, but they are actually essential to the experience of what the situation or environment will be like when the aspirations are reached.

To achieve realization, people must demonstrate the sought-after mindsets and behaviors in a quality manner and sustain them over the appropriate amount of time. Therefore, intent management takes into account not only objective goals, but also the experience of working within the new environment created by the change. When intent management is successful, mindsets, behavior, quality, and durability converge to produce the sought-after result.

A Line of Sight

Intent management progresses from clarity (aligning on a precise and explicit purpose) to expression (impeccably communicating the purpose) to integrity (staying true to the original goal).

Intent clarity is our starting point. Clarity means starting with the end in mind. Many people limit their thinking to how the future will be different from today. Their jumping off point is how things are now (i.e., where the problems and challenges exist). The current state is what they must change from but it is not the change. Starting from the present is reflective of an incremental mindset. It often leads to a large investment but accomplishes little. A transformational future is more likely to emerge when the intent originates from a “yet-to-come” perspective and the change emerges by working back to the present.

Intent is, therefore, a statement of expectations for the desired end state. It paints a picture of the future…a rendering that is not just process and financials. It weaves in how people will act, behave, feel, and interact. Questions often asked in the process of clarifying intent are, “How will we judge success when we are finished?” and “What will we look for in the result that will make us proud of the effort?”

The challenge is that clarity is not just for an individual, but also for the leadership team sponsoring the initiative. It is surprising how often a senior team can agree to fund an initiative, and apparently subscribe to the same desired outcome, yet each member sees what is to be accomplished differently. To be successful, leadership must share a common clarity and commit to the intent. Only when intent is unambiguous within the leadership team can they impart it to others.

The second ingredient in intent is expression—the ability to articulate the intent to all who need to participate in its realization. Intent is an expression of what is in the minds and hearts of the leaders sponsoring the initiative. Without understanding the sponsor’s vision, the implementation team will either be constantly guessing what the leaders really wanted or continually returning to ask questions. The former will inevitably lead to an unsuccessful result. The latter will lead to frustration on both sides as well as delays.

The expression of intent is not a two-inch-thick binder or a fifty-slide PowerPoint deck. The most powerful expression is brief and emotional. Brief so that people can remember it, and emotional so that they can relate to it at a deeper level. It must be presented in a way that allows the recipients to see themselves in it. Expressing intent includes stories, images, metaphors—as well as graphs and spreadsheets. The test of expression is whether people “get it” at an emotional as well as an intellectual level.

The third component of intent management is integrity. Intent that is clear and expressed so people can relate to it must also be protected. Between vision and reality, hundreds of decisions are required. Each one has the potential to bring the desired result into sharper focus or to blur it. Safeguarding the integrity of intent means ensuring that each decision on the path is in line with the true purpose of the overall effort. This seems obvious, but with the multitude of inevitable pressures during execution regarding time, resources, and funding, the true intent often becomes lost in the decision-making process. During a project, one person or group usually watches the timing of key events/milestones and often someone else watches the spending, but rarely does anyone guard the vision.

Guarding the vision has two sides to it—protecting the aspirations that have been established and keeping them alive and current in the face of the dynamic environment in which they will be executed. The world does not stand still as change is executed. The intent must continue to be relevant and meaningful regardless of shifting circumstances.

Next: Symptoms of the Need for Intent Management

Posted on: September 07, 2010 11:00 AM | Permalink

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