Change Comes From the Inside Out

imageI ran across a great article in the Harvard Business Review last week by Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners, a company that strengthens leadership in people and organizations. Bregram’s article is titled, “Execution is a People Problem, Not a Strategy Problem.”

After reading the article I reflected back to our change-vision in the heady days of Madison, Wisc. police reform – “Quality from the inside out.” This was what Bregman was taking about, unless we can somehow shape the “hearts and minds” of our officers, we will never get to where we need to be as a profession.

The change process I write about in my book, Arrested Development, and Kenneth Novak, and others describe in their chapter, “Organizational Change” in the 7th edition of Police and Society (Oxford Press, 2017) is dependent on that theory – when we want to do or change something it’s not about what we put on the drawing board but how those in the organization are led.

More and more today, it’s not about the plan, but about how the people who are expected to carry out the plan are engaged, listened to, and treated with respect.

Bregman writes, “Paul (a pseudonym) the CEO of Maxreed, a global publishing company, was having trouble sleeping. Publishing is an industry that’s changing even faster than most other fast-changing industries, but Paul wasn’t awake worrying about his strategy. He had a solid plan that took advantage of new technologies, and the board and his leadership team were aligned around it. Paul and his team had already reorganized the structure — new divisions, revised roles, redesigned processes — to support their strategy.

“So what was Paul worrying about? People.

“Which is precisely what he should be worrying about. However hard it is to devise a smart strategy, it’s ten times harder to get people to execute on that strategy. And a poorly executed strategy, no matter how clever, is worthless…”

He we were to depict the organizational challenge graphically, it would be going from this:

arrows

To this:

arrows3

While most organizations (including police) rely on communication (most often top-down) to make this important realignment. But it’s not enough.

“To deliver stellar results,” Bregman says, “people need to be hyperaligned and laser-focused on the highest-impact actions that will drive the organization’s most important outcomes.” Most of us know that even in the most stable and well-run organization, people are often not aligned with the mission, poorly focused, and even working at cross=purposes to the direction the leader wants the organization to go.

Think for a moment about tightening up your organization’s use of force policy. We all know that issuing a policy change, even engaging in training, is not enough to make is work and be sustained.

Bregman says the most important strategy question you need to answer is: “How can we align everyone’s efforts and help them accomplish the organization’s most important work?”

After 25 years of experimenting with this problem and its question, Bregram designed what he calls “The Big Arrow Process.”

Defining the Big Arrow

  1. What is the most important outcome to achieve over the next 12 months – the One Most Important Thing?
  1. If you can answer “yes” to each of these questions, it’s likely that your Big Arrow is on target.
    1. Will success in the Big Arrow drive the mission of the larger organization?
    2. Is the Big Arrow supporting, and supported by, your primary organizational goals?
    3. Will achieving it make a statement to the organization about what’s most important?
    4. Will it lead to the execution of your strategy?
    5. Is it the appropriate stretch?
    6. Are you excited about it?
    7. Do you have an emotional connection to it?

Along with this kind of outcome clarity, Bregman also created behavioral clarity by identifying the most important behavior that would lead to achieving the outcome and those most capable of leading it.

  1. What current behavior do we see in the organization that will make driving the Big Arrow harder and make success less likely?
  2. Then articulate the opposite, which will then be the positive drivers — “Big Arrow behavior.
  3. Identify the people in the organization who has the greatest capacity to affect the forward movement of the Arrow?
  4. Who is an “influencer” in the organization?
  5. Who has an outsize impact on our Big Arrow outcome or behavior?

If this raises your interest in thinking about how you will go about leading a major change in your organization I urge you to read the full article HERE.

What Bregman said aligns very strongly with the Madison way that was very effective in moving a police organization in the early 1980s. What we are really talking about is meeting our employees needs while we improve the ways police services are delivered. And that’s as relevant today as it was 30 years ago!


  • Peter Bregman is CEO of Bregman Partners, a company that strengthens leadership in people and in organizations through programs (including the Bregman Leadership Intensive), coaching, and as a consultant to CEOs and their leadership teams. Best-selling author of 18 Minutes, his most recent book is Four Seconds (February 2015).