Context is Key to Successful Change

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

I am still amazed at how infrequently organizational changes take context into account when they plan a major change. It’s like the idea itself – we’ll cut costs, we’ll move into new markets, we’ll introduce a new product, etc. – is so compelling that our brains don’t have room to even consider tough questions about the overall business/cultural environment. In my book, Why Don’t You Want What I Want?, I argue that considering the context is one of the most important things we should do.

And it’s hard to find good examples of organizations that do a great job of this. I found one in this morning’s The Washington Post. How Gays Won a Marriage Victory tells how activists prepared for and won the case that allows gay marriage. A few points:

Activists worked out of the spotlight.
They carefully screen couples to find the best candidates to be test cases.

As the article says, “When taking the legislative route, the activists first get to know the political dynamics to identify friendly and potentially friendly lawmakers. They find residents to call lawmakers to express support for same-sex marriage. They start phone banks and petition drives. And, as with court action, they wait until they think their chances are good.”

The strategies in Iowa are different than those pursued in other states. For example, in Rhode Island activists are waiting until 2011 when Governor Carcieri, an opponent of gay marriage, leaves office.
The article makes a fine case study for the importance of knowing the context you are working in.