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If everything comes your way… you're in the wrong lane

Optimize Blog - September 8, 2009 - 0 comments

When considering a fundamental shift in your strategy just take a look at Samoa as evidence that nothing is impossible.  In this relatively remote South Pacific island they have just completed the switch from driving on the right to driving on the left.  It’s also quite an exercise in managing change.  The reason for the change was to reduce the Island’s reliance on expensive US left hand drive cars and to be able to take advantage of cheaper right hand drive cars that could be imported from Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
As you might expect there were some disgruntled stakeholders, the lobby group PASS (People Against Switching Sides) or as they were sometimes known the “We’re all going to die” group making a late challenge to de-rail the plans but the government remained firm and the change seems to have gone without a hitch.  There was another protest group who blocked the road for a couple of hours in one of the villages but in the end they were convinced that the change was necessary and the benefits would soon become apparent.
Every road junction had emergency vehicles and government officials showing people the way.  All the road signs were changed in time and there was some coordinated prayer time!  A two day holiday was also declared as an incentive and a chance for people to try out the new system without the added daily pressures of getting to work on time.
There are some lingering issues not the least of which is the bus driver’s concerns that they are now depositing their passengers into the road instead of onto the sidewalk but no doubt they’ll find a solution to this soon.
So lots of parallels for us in business here.
Just because a change in strategy is significant and it requires a substantial change program to implement it, doesn’t mean that it is not the right option. Just because the strategic option is complex doesn’t mean we should avoid it.
Manage stakeholders well and be prepared for the fact that maybe not everyone will think your plan is a good one.  Accept that you won’t iron out all the wrinkles immediately but that that the wrinkles can be lived with until a solution is found.  And last but not least, manage the change effectively.  Show people the way, maintain an open door policy, incentivise people and give them a chance to make the change a success.
Well done Samoa!

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