Change projects that influence organizational and people behavior can be complex. So complex, in fact, that McKinsey & Co. research suggests that “two out of three change projects fail to achieve their goals.”
It’s clear: making change a success is hard.
The traditional approach to change management involves defining your current and desired states, identifying gaps between them and creating solutions to fill them in. As sound as this process may appear, it leaves many aspects uncovered and potential risks are unknown. Our minds naturally think about the steps we can take to success, not the failures and roadblocks that we’ll potentially meet along the way. But looking at things from the opposite perspective reveals important factors you haven’t considered.
At JLL, we use a technique inspired by German mathematician Carl Jacobi called Inversion Thinking. Put simply, it’s a way to meet your final goal by first charting which steps not to do. Flipping your perspective ensures that you have a good sense of potential risks and can avoid them to the best of your abilities.
Say your change program defines success as “complete understanding, successful transition and full adoption of agile workplace technology by all teams on or before Oct. 2017.”
With inversion thinking, we restate the objective in the opposite sense. Continuing from the same example above, the objective now is to “ensure zero to no adoption of the agile workplace technology by any individual or team now or anytime in the future.” While it may seem odd, planning for failure helps you define the actions or behaviors that you should not adopt. Following which, you can prioritize and filter your actions, based on the risks they pose. Essentially, you’ve mitigated your risks right from the start.
Here’s an example of how inversion thinking would generate ideas for a typical workplace transformation. Original objective: “Engage people in adopting the organization’s new workplace strategy program, generate leadership buy-in and train people in new behaviors to make change sustainable.” Restated objective using inversion thinking: “Ensure your people know nothing about the workplace program, alienate leadership and ensure low program adoption rates.”
This is just one of the many approaches you can take to optimize change planning. While there isn’t one best approach, inversion thinking is definitely helpful in 1) looking at potential problems and roadblocks through a new lens, and 2) prioritizing your strategy based on what outcome will have the greatest impact.
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