Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

Three Fundamental Elements of Driving Change

Back in 2002, Frank Nuovo was a talented technologist working in the R&D organization of Nokia.  At the time, Nokia was the global leader of the cellphone industry.  Nokia was also starting to sell smartphones, but they were very crude by today’s standards.

Frank was part of a team focused on the smartphone of the future.  That team emerged with a terrific product that had a color touch screen, robust e-mail capabilities, and impressive internet performance.  They were then faced with the task of getting the Management of the company as excited about getting this product into the marketplace as they were.

Year after year, they tried to get attention to the fabulous capabilities of their product, but the top management was totally focused on the standard cellphone, generating an industry leading market share and record breaking revenues and profits year after year.  One of the team members commented in an interview recently that during 2002-2006 “we spent most of our time fighting politics.”  Their efforts really never got a hearing up the chain of command.

Then, in 2007, the iPhone and the Android-based phones were introduced.  Naturally, these market entries had exactly the kind of capabilities that Frank and his team had developed years before.   Management’s view was those new iPhone and Android entries were interesting but what customers really wanted were standard cellphones, a segment of the market that continued to grow, particularly in the developing countries.  By 2010, Nokia’s business was in terrible shape, smartphone usage was exploding.  At last the board brought in a new CEO who switched Nokia’s focus to smartphones; but it was too late.  Early this year, Nokia sold its struggling phone business to Microsoft

The demise of Nokia reminds us that there are three very important components of driving change:

1.) Analyze the Impact of Both Doing It and Not Doing It – Besides describing the positives, which we all love to do, an equally important question to ask is: if a competitor does this, and is successful, what will the impact be on us?

2.) You Need to Determine Who Has the Authority to Make the Change – It is often not clear in an organization who has what authority to make decisions of the scope represented by the change.  On the other hand, it is essential for success to get this nailed down, and then go to work convincing that person or committee.

3.) You Need a Champion Fully Capable of Making the Case With the Decision Maker – This champion must not only be able to get quality time to explain the impact of making and not making the change, but also has the respect and credibility to add stature to the overall effort.

As demonstrated by the Nokia case, the role of a change agent is tough, but these three points are the fundamental steppingstones for success.


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