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Six questions good change leaders ask about good ideas

Updated: May 29, 2021

Is your change initiative meaningful and valuable or is it a good idea? Ask these six questions to expose the challenges and opportunities in your change initiative today.

questions change leaders ask about good ideas

Have you seen Guy Ritchie's film, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword? Despite a stellar cast, the film cost $175 million and lost $150 million. And to think, somebody thought it was a good idea to give David Beckham his acting debut!

David Beckham wasn't the reason the film flopped, but there is a cautionary tale here: stay away from good ideas!

You can skip to the end if you want to get straight to the six questions good change leaders ask about good ideas.

Is your change initiative struggling because it is a good idea?

What should you look for in a good idea?

  • something that isn't seen as new/better over what already exists

  • something new that is not seen as being better when it comes to solving an operational/strategic problem (i.e. it does not improve performance against indicators of safety, time, innovation, quality, cost or customer/employee experience)

  • something new that isn't scalable (cost/benefit) and, therefore, is not seen as better than what already exists

  • all of the above


A story about questions good change leaders ask about good ideas

I was approached by a well-known international company, where my first contact was from the new transformation lead, Frank, who had been tasked with leading a new Knowledge Management initiative.

In our first meeting, I asked Frank what was driving the need for this new investment in KM?

He didn't know.

I asked about the meaning behind the company's use of the term "Knowledge Management"?

He didn't know, but made some assumptions.

I asked how they intended to engage and involve end users in the initiative?

He didn't know.

...I let silence do my talking.

Frank quickly explained that one of the Directors, Jim, had been playing golf with a friend who worked at Siemens. The friend from Siemens talked about how good Knowledge Management was for them and how much of a good idea it would be if Jim's company did Knowledge Management. Jim came back and created a new role for Frank as Transformation Lead, with a remit to build a progressive Knowledge Management programme.

- In case you are wondering, this really is a true story -

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I asked Frank to go back and speak to Jim about his motivation to do Knowledge Management; I wanted to know what inspired Jim to sponsor a Knowledge Management programme in the first place. What opportunity or challenge was he sensing?

Frank came back to me a few days later to let me know that, "Jim feels that it is a good idea!" Jim also said that he just wanted Frank to go and do "something." I pushed Frank to learn more, specifically about how Knowledge Management was seen as a vehicle for value creation.

A week later, Frank told me that Jim was getting irritated and just wanted Frank to get on with the job.

After a lot of back and forth, I declined the engagement, predicting that, given the lack of boundary setting around the transformation initiative and its value to the business, it would fail.

Frank spent almost a year building a credible evidence-base for action, interviewing staff across Business Units in three countries and visiting Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise organisations.

The day came for Frank to deliver his vision to the Board. I spoke with him on the morning of the presentation; he felt excited about revealing what he believed to be an ambitious strategic and operational plan for Knowledge Management, aimed at improving productivity.

I spoke with a dejected Frank the next day. The presentation had been a disaster, leaving Frank feeling as though his reputation was ruined. Jim, the project sponsor, killed Frank's proposal in its tracks with feedback such as: "we already do this" and "this wasn't what I had in mind when I brought you in to lead this transformation!"

Demoralised, Frank left the company three months later. Jim, frustrated, shelved the KM transformation initiative.

The end...


There is a lot you can take from this story, but, before looking at the 6 questions good change leaders ask about good ideas, here are a few opportunities for you to think about with your own change initiatives:

  • Set boundaries: you need a common understanding of WHAT the meaning of the change is and what it isn't before you start a project

  • ensure that sponsors can communicate their understanding of WHAT the change initiative means to them, the user and the organisation before you do anything else

  • ensure that the proposed change is seen by the people who will bring it to life to be something new and better than what currently exists

  • ensure that the good idea can be operationalised and scaled, where the proposed change benefits outweigh the cost (financial through to the emotional cost, and its impact on productivity)

  • Remember, it is better to be someone who is good at leading change than someone who is good at creating good change ideas!

The six questions good leaders ask about good Knowledge Management ideas

Ask these six questions to make sure your change initiative is meaningful and valuable, and not just a good idea:

  1. How does the proposed change fit with the mission, vision, values or purpose of our organisation?

  2. How does the proposed change respond to a current or anticipated internal operational opportunity?

  3. How does the proposed change respond to a current or anticipated external operational opportunity?

  4. How does the proposed change create meaning and value over time?

  5. What brings the benefits of the proposed change to outweigh the costs? [think risk-balance]

  6. What makes the proposed change scalable?


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