The idea of a robust business case built on facts and objective analysis spearheading major reform and development is compelling to leaders in government and business. The rationale is that if strong analysis demonstrates the case for a different course of action, then people will see the logic, embrace the new direction and momentum for change will accelerate.
In reality, even exceptionally well-researched plans can fail dismally in catalysing change. We see it with researchers where groundbreaking research is not quickly applied by businesses, with industries where bold new strategies become reports gathering dust or with economy wide reform where robust policy and programs are derailed by vested interests.
When progress with major reform and development becomes stalled, it depletes resources, defers potential benefits and amplifies the frustration of stakeholders including the community.
A key insight as to why strong business cases often fail to translate to action is that the real outcome sought is not the business case itself, but the different future that is envisaged. Reforms are much more likely to succeed where economic analysis and qualitative logic are viewed as an input to a much broader and more holistic strategy for change. They are not the strategy.
It is flawed thinking to believe that technically robust plans provide any guarantee for achieving transformational change. The real value for change leaders is not to be found in the technical analysis. Instead, it lies in the design of an intelligent change strategy that can translate the business case into reality.
The key insight here is that an effective change strategy develops in parallel with the technical work, not afterwards. For example, strategic engagement with end users is best done before and during the research rather than after.
The degree of difficulty for change goes up where there are multiple stakeholders, vested interests and competing views. The Australian Government is now pursuing reforms in challenging but crucial areas such as water, biosecurity, health, carbon and energy efficiency. It is also pursuing economic development through the policies such as those in the White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century.
Similarly, rural industry and natural resource management organisations are looking to innovate with new plans, structures and programs being developed or announced across the sector. For example, the National Farmers’ Federation is now launching the Blueprint for Agriculture and the Agribusiness Council of Australia is being launched next month. Leadership and innovation are certainly alive and well in rural and regional Australia.
Yet, it is the design and implementation of the change strategy around these and other plans that will shape the prospects for success.
Investing resources in intelligent design for reform and development at the outset can position leaders to bridge the gap between aspirations and outcomes.