Who moved my cheese is a staple in most HR bookshelves. It describes the journey of Hem and Haw as they come to terms with the disappearance of their steady supply of cheese.
This may be 25 years old, but their core message has never been truer. Stay still and condemn yourself to obsolescence. Embrace change and the probability of finding new cheese increases.
Every journey needs a map, and when it comes to project-led change that map is prioritization.
Why does change matter to prioritization?
- To truly unlock the benefits of quality prioritization you must be willing to implement radical change around how resource gets allocated. McKinsey research has shown that investment based on value consistently outperforms investment based on continuity. Similar analysis of financial markets from Forbes shows S&P outperformance is heavily concentrated in the top 20% of companies, implying that opportunity is not equally shared.
As an organization you will have key opportunities. However, there’s no reason to believe that they are evenly distributed between your divisions. In fact, this would be extremely unlikely. But to move resources aggressively or divest low performing divisions is not the easy choice. It’s the option that recognizes that you must work hard to find new cheese.
- Change is inherent in challenging ‘how things are done round here’. Transitioning resource allocation to a new model is highly disruptive. You’ve got to recognize that there are people who probably like this way of working. After all, it’s predictable (although not ‘safe’) and perhaps they’re good at working the system.
Hem would not want to change prioritization. He’s always got his cheese in the past, thank you very much, and this sounds complicated and like a lot of work. So, let’s consider how we can challenge this mindset.
For this journey let’s take a simple model for change:
- Preconception. This is where you deny the need to change. While you may have passed this point, others may not. If your boss / CEO / CFO is stuck here, you’ll struggle. We have slides that can help you craft a presentation to get then moving.
- Contemplation. This might be where you are now. You know there must be a better way to allocate resources, but you’re not quite sure what it is yet. Check out this blog for options.
- Preparation. Getting ready for change? What does the ideal outcome for this change process look like? What scaffolding does it need in terms of software, process, and participation? Read more here.
- Action. Make change happen. Pilot first to build momentum, then fine-tune your solution to ensure scale up is successful. If you're here, why not take a look at this deployment guide.
- Maintain. This is a classic pitfall. Personnel change, so make sure your new way of working is based in sustainable process, and therefore will not be unwound when you get promoted (which of course you will, once you nail prioritization…). For this, consider the broader context of prioritization as the basis for embedding organizational accountability rather than a one-off crisis management solution.
As we explain this journey to potential clients we sometimes hear, “we’re too immature for this”. Which is classic ‘Hem-talk’. Making this commitment to change is not a function of maturity; it’s a function of recognizing necessity and having the bravery to act.
Now, let’s revert to Haw’s guidance on cheese hunting, to reflect on how we will deliver a successful change process for prioritization:
- Change happens. If your planning process is not dynamic, you are not going to be able to respond to the constant flow of demands inherent in the world today.
- Anticipate change. Passively waiting for things to break is not good enough. Learn to read the signals that pick up emergent trends at the right time.
- Monitor change. You must quantify the value of competing projects if you are going to be able to move resources quickly. Without data you are simply guessing.
- Adapt quickly. Being responsive to change is a key competency in most successful organizations today. If your competition is better than you are, then time to act.
- Don't over-plan. Invest time to do this well, but better to learn with a pilot than have another meeting with the same agenda. Be aware of hard deadlines in budgeting.
- Enjoy change. You’re changing the rules. For some this is liberating, but others will need support, and might even turn into dangerous snipers if they feel threatened.
- Be ready to change again. Recognize that your plan is out of date from the moment it’s done, so build dynamic re-planning into your process.
Applying these principles isn’t trivial – after all getting people to change how they do things notoriously tricky, as you create new muscle memory. This is why organizations often bring in the consultants or wait till a crisis forces a change.
However, if you’ve already worked out that your cheese supply is dwindling then you have a chance to solve this proactively. It’s time to start work on the game plan for your cheese hunt, and for how you’re going to get the 'Hems' in your business to embrace better prioritization.