Strategy, Innovation & Leadership

The Change Canvas kickstarts change in organizations

By Woody van Olffen | May 28, 2018 | 4 min read

Nowadays, everything happens a lot faster. Our pace of life has increased. Just compare a television series of some twenty years ago with one now. Then you will see the difference. The same applies to organizations. There too, collective switching, learning and unlearning are done rapidly. But how do you actually implement changes in your organization? A quick overview of a new tool to kickstart change: the Change Canvas. 

To start with: this is about big changes - not superficial ones. So no superficial reorientations, reorganizations or a little “more or less of the same”. It is not about cosmetic reconstructions and “adjustments”. It is not about “reformulations”. It is not about a “trip along the coast”. Projects like that can usually be outlined and implemented in a straightforward manner. You can find manuals for this in all standard management books. Deep change, on the other hand, is about transformation, about a (partial) metamorphosis. Old behavior and old habits have to be given up, while on the other hand new ones have to be learned. A new mentality has to take root, with everyone in the organization. And that affects the hard core of the organization: its values and possibly even its identity. 

Starting point

Before the change journey begins, it is a good idea to mark a common starting point to explore initial ideas on the possible outcomes of the change and what we may (initially) need to achieve them. For this, we developed the Change Canvas. This is a practical roadmap that we have successfully implemented in the past years when kick-starting change in various organizations. Complete the Canvas as much as possible in co-creation with your first group of change agents (your “change crew”). This will help you accomplish two things. Firstly, involving the key figures in your organization in creating change increases their sense of ownership of the process. Secondly, when you involve the rest of the organization later on in refining/supplementing the Canvas, they will appreciate that something has already been put down on paper.

The Change Canvas

The Change Canvas consists of three “panels”. It all starts on the left on the so-called STORY BOARD with a description of the WHY: from the ambitions and/or the burning necessity to change. These are supplemented by inspiration from four additional types of change stories that need to be unearthed and shared. All this leads to the central panel in the Change Canvas: the so-called SWITCH BOARD. Here we inventory the critical switches that are needed to make in order to get from the existing to the future situation on the stories panel. By a ‘switch’ we mean building up something new (starting) or phasing out something that exists (stopping). These switches are –first and for all- about old and new behaviors. Other switches concern the mission, the core values, and about a wide range of cultural elements (the ‘cultural cloud’) such as written and unwritten rules of conduct. Part of the transitions panel is also the Business Model, in particular the organization's value proposition. How does the value we offer to our customers change? The right-hand side of the Canvas, the ACTION BOARD, translates the intentions gathered on the switch board into direct concrete consequences for the organization's short-term setup (the WHAT). This also explores the relevant persons and roles (WHO), which need to be filled in. 

1. The story board

In order to build inspiration and a clear vision for our change adventure, we must develop a joint passion, plus a properly shared understanding of who we are, what we stand for and what we can achieve together. Together these form an inspiring “story”. What we can learn from famous historical leaders is that good stories can be effective supporters and motors for the change. A good, inspiring story is a powerful instrument and indispensable for real change. 

Organizations can be conceived as collections of stories: stories that relay information and emotion. That affect our head and our heart. Stories are used to communicate, pass on and record important facts, lessons and messages. We naturally remember exciting stories, fairy tales and legends. By passing them on, we become part of the collective whole and we can add something personal to them. By sharing and co-creating these stories, we relate to the message and it becomes (even more) our own. This subsequently helps us to behave in line with the story: to live and exemplify our collective story. The story board helps you to work out 5 story types critical to achieve change.

2. The switch board

We are now moving from the story and the imagination to the concrete translation in real life. The central panel in the Change Canvas is the transitions panel. The stories surrounding necessity, passion and options on the left-hand panel inspire the articulation of a number of “switches”: new things to build up and old things to phase out. The switch board helps to find out exactly which transitions are needed in relation to our mission, our business model, our behavior and our culture. Brainstorm and co-create these transitions together with the change crew. Make sure that this creates a crystal clear and properly shared picture of what intended change exactly looks like in terms of behaviors and values.

3. The action board

If we know and feel where we want to go to, we can start focusing on the first things that are necessary for achieving those switches (the WHAT). This does not happen from one day to the next, because effective change means learning, and that takes time. The awareness that change is a collective learning process, in which you have to help each other to learn, by trial and error, is perhaps the most important success factor in the daily practice of organizational change. The cultivation of such a learning mind has high priority. Moreover, everything is about connecting and mutual trust so that you can “help each other to learn”. Giving each other constructive feedback and asking for and receiving active feedback are indispensable for that process. So it is never too early to start practicing giving and receiving feedback – starting with the change crew. Start with it and persevere. As a leader, set the right example. This lays the foundation for the necessary learning culture and the success of the change journey. 

Join the TIAS Experience Change Adventures

The volatility and unpredictability of today’s organizational life often leads to ineffectiveness in ‘managing’ change. What if we regard change as an adventure to engage in? What is your opportunity as (HR) leader and how can you add value on this change journey? Join the TIAS Experience Change Adventures on April 17!

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