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The Great Turkey Rebellion: A Tale of Strategy and Complex Change

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The turkeys gathered by the light of the moon to conspire against the farmer, who was preparing to satisfy the needs of holiday dinner-parties throughout the town.  They spent the evening drawing up battle plans, sharpening beaks and claws, and discussing the benefit of rotten eggs launched from catapults as distracting fire.

As the dawn approached, the hens gave the toms a peck on the cheek and sent the Army through the coop-gates with foreboding crows of courage.  As the young chicks spirited away to the safe, dark recesses of the pens to wait out the battle, a growling whisper split the dim morning air, “What happens after the farmer is gone?”

The fowl troops halted their formation when the fox, who had watched the preparation with amusement, gave them their answer from the shadows behind the barn door.  “The farmer would have dispatched you quickly with the skill of many years experience,” the fox growled, “but consider who stands to replace him?”  The great turkey army disbanded and slogged back to their pens to re-plan their engagement as the answer became clear in their minds—dispatching the farmer failed to address the true, strategic problem at hand: there will still be a demand for turkey!

Too often, the energy and sound of tactical preparation diminishes the strategic view.  As a result, leaders fail to address the larger issues that challenge a team.  This is doubly true of large-scale, complex organizational change where more than a few foxes lurk in the shadows to thwart the efforts of a team about to march in a new direction.  As it turns out, the answer is in the team’s understanding of the message:

1)     Where are we going?

2)     Why are we going there?

3)     What is my role?

As it turns out, the answer is in the team’s understanding of the message!

Organizations, military and corporate alike, spend considerable resources developing strategic plans in the chess-games guiding their future.  What defines the difference between success and failure is the way leaders communicate the plan to the very teammates who will execute the moves.  Consider that large-scale, complex change is a journey—and every journey requires knowledge of the environment and the path towards a goal.  Very few Teams have the luxury of resources so great that Teammates can be passengers along for the ride, providing drag to the inertia of positive movement.

As such, it is incumbent upon leaders to bring the desired future into focus for all members of the Team—to ensure that everyone can tell the story so clearly and so vividly that they hunger for the destination.  Harvard Business School professor, John Kotter, celebrated author of Leading Change,” championed the power of simultaneously “creating a vision to help direct the change effort,” and then “communicating the vision.”  Strategy, as it turns out, only works when all the players involved understand their role and how they can move the Team in the right direction.

What defines the difference between success and failure is the way leaders communicate the plan to the very teammates who will execute the moves.

So ask yourself, where are you leading your Team today?  Have you considered the second and third‑order effects of the change you are leading?  Do your Teammates know why the change matters?  Better yet, can they tell the story themselves with the same flame and energy as you can?  On the other hand, is it possible they are too focused on the rotten eggs or the sharpening of claws to understand that their inability to understand the direction only dooms them to a worse fate than staying where they are?  Tell your story, share your vision, and expect your Team to be capable of the same…

…the farmers and the foxes may be taken by surprise!

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Image credit- ryanking999 / 123RF Stock Photo

Matthew T. Fritz is a leader and mentor in the field of complex organizational change, emotional intelligence, and organization strategy. A successful DoD senior-acquisition program manager and test leader, Matt has earned documented success in the areas of test and evaluation, assessment, technology development and flight operations. He has specialized experience in cost, schedule and performance management and is an active duty Field-Grade Officer with command-experience in the United States Air Force. Matt is also a certified acquisition professional, as well as a certified Emotional Intelligence Trainer/Practitioner. He is the Author of an instructional book entitled, “Leveraging Your LinkedIn Profile for Success” and actively blogs with other military leaders at GeneralLeadership.com, as well as his personal blog at AdvancedVectors.com. He and his wife, Stacy, enjoy life with their daughter and son in New Mexico.

  • Guest

    Brilliant insight, Matthew. It is especially powerful coming from a leader in a field in which the failure of the entire team to understand the strategy can have tragic consequences. The biggest obstacle to communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished, and in too many organizations, teammates presented with an ambiguous strategy would sooner nod silently rather than speak up to ask for clarification.

  • http://www.mills-scofield.com/ Deb Mills-Scofield

    Matthew – what an incredible allegory that drives the point home. Perhaps you’re the Aesop of the 21st C – on many levels. Thank you for your apply-able, applicable wise words and your unwavering leadership on both the micro and macro levels.

  • http://sorensjogren.com/ Soren Sjogren

    My experience on leading change is that where end why are by far the most important questions.
    I think that the key to successful change management is communication and remembering that the most powerful form of communication is the personal example.

    I think too many leaders think like the turkeys. They fail to consider the root problem and focus on the activities instead.

    Lovely analogy. Thanks.

  • http://www.GeneralLeadership.com/ Matthew Fritz

    I love your insight and agree–nodding is (sadly) far easier than asking questions. You are wise to point out that it is only through the Team’s understanding of the map, that everybody is able to get to the destination. I appreciate you reading and, even more, sharing!

  • http://www.GeneralLeadership.com/ Matthew Fritz

    Deb, as usual, you humble me with your comments… Aesop of the 21st C? [[blush]]
    Thanks for your support and sharing–and your ever-so-kind words!

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