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How can you help your organization institute the changes it requires to meet its mission and gain a competitive advantage? Begin by thinking and acting like a startup.

Forget the idea of attempting a large-scale re-engineering that was commonly advocated in the 1990s. Focus instead on disrupting what’s not working by embracing micro-development. HBR’s Robert Schaffer explains why organizations should avoid cultural change when implementing business-critical changes.

First, the organization must select and direct its resources and investments toward addressing one problem. Then it must assemble and assign a team capable of — and solely dedicated to — developing three-to-five possible solutions, rolling out each on a small-scale, and then testing, monitoring, and measuring the effectiveness of how well each resolves the specific problem. Change comes from trial-and-error; and all problems are inherently complex, and human solutions are almost always initially flawed.

To step up and compete effectively, leaders would benefit from keeping in mind that any significant organizational change will easily breed extreme anxiety, both internally and externally. The only path toward alleviating such nervousness is through proactive, transparent, and relationship-appropriate communication. Messages must accurately and honestly address and answer the specific concerns of employees, stakeholders, shareholders, partners, and customers/constituents. Some common questions to address include;

• Will the workforce need to acquire new competencies and meet new benchmarks?
• How will the proposed changes affect the communities and the supply lines that serve and rely on the organization?
• How will the proposed changes affect the organization’s mission and competitiveness?
• Will the proposed changes benefit partners and provide the communities served with the support they presently need?

Leaders can only answer these questions by first clearly identifying and defining the critical problems. Then they must select the single problem that will generate the most impact. Next, they need to organize a team of specialists — and provide them with the resources — to create an actionable, measurable solution that specifically addresses the single problem. Finding a competitive advantage begins with answering these two questions: Where do we want to play? How will we win there?.

Only by thinking small can an organization cultivate the right solution that over time enables it to adapt and evolve in ways consistent with its mission and strategic trajectory. Projects fail because too many interests are put into the mix. Larger organizations do not need to be as nimble as a startup. Size actually has no bearing; focus and purpose does. And it all begins by micro-developing a range of solutions that help the organization find an way to more effectively achieve its mission within a changing business climate.

Please comment:
Do you agree? Why? Why not? Why isn’t micro-development a good idea? When isn’t it appropriate? What would you suggest and why? Do you have an example of rolling out such an effort?

This post was originally published by the author in The WindMiner's Journal.