Chutes and Ladders

By September 11, 2012April 12th, 2021Archive

Remember the childhood game Chutes and Ladders? Roll the dice and you move around the board. If you are lucky, you climb ladders and get to the finish line first. If luck runs out, your tile slides back to the starting point. Is there a parable here for effective stakeholder management when sourcing globally?

Gambling is not officially in the lexicon of effective services delivery implementation, so Lady Luck is not the best change agent. Rolling the dice is not the optimum way to promote adoption of the degree of change that altering a target operating model represents. Yet, most organizations spend very little time gaming the reactions of the stakeholders whose very business processes are about to change, and developing the right messages to support change.

Transformation teams expect that the dictate to outsource or offshore that come down from above are sufficient to keep all the players — business units and users — in line, and the noise levels acceptably low. Unfortunately, little attention is paid to implementing a change messaging campaign that makes it easy for supporters to get onsides, and muffle the unreasonable objections of those who just don’t want to play ball. So when affected employees grumble and find subtle ways to continually subvert the path of change, transformation management shrug their collective shoulders and wonder why.


Effective change-messaging programs are as tightly plotted as a battle plan, under the premise that, as in any skirmish, there is an inflection point when the war is either won or lost. Taking full measure of the enemy, determining on which fronts the battle should be waged, and developing an arsenal of propaganda to outflank each warring party, is critical to success.

The response of stakeholders subject to change generally follows a predictable evolution. After initial awareness of any adjustment in the operating model, stakeholders naturally “try on” the change, entering into a period of self concern when each sorts through the implications of service delivery upon his current roles and responsibilities. Following the self-concern stage is a period of mental tryout, when the stakeholder tries to sort through WIIFM or “what’s in it for me?”

At this inflection point, the change games begin in earnest. And managing how the messages are internalized and interpreted over time becomes crucial — yet, most transformation managers cede the opportunity to win the war to the vagaries of Lady Luck.

Time for the transformation team to jump into the shoes of each stakeholder group, and plot a messaging program that ensures what is said and what is heard are one and the same. For example, the internal sale for many services globalization programs is predicated on the ability to increase the focus on revenue generation. Yet, the more clearly heard subtext is “cut cost.” The boon of self-service is perceived as “incompetent, impersonal helpdesk.” And the twin benefit of implementing new global systems and processes is read as “not as good as before.” While management touts the “transparency of communications,” stakeholders hear “they are fattening up for the kill — reductions in force, transferring our work offshore.” Understanding how to communicate change as the stakeholders take positions at each stage is critical to success.


As in any comedy or tragedy, the cast of characters is easily identifiable. Heroes and villains are always written into the script. The heroine is beautiful and pure at heart, while the supporting actor is long suffering and the perfect foil for the hero.

Take any major change program and the same actors appear time and again. Once the play is in full production — after the initial stages of try out and try on — the stakeholders all move through a rather orthodox set of roles, depending upon their abilities to empathize with the corporate rationale for change, understand and adapt to new ways of working, and believe in the sincerity and honesty of the messages. Therefore, designing and implementing the right change-messaging program is critical to channeling behavior.

Some stakeholders will naturally accept change, while others have a propensity to reject it. Identifying who is who, and the way in which they listen, is a first step in developing the right response model, ultimately moving the majority of the players to the “accept” side of the stage. The trick in effective stakeholder management is to exploit support and contain dissent by managing responses to change.

Stage One: Conscientious Objector or Recruit. At this stage, stakeholders still cling to a degree of rationality, but the battle lines are being drawn. Those who can accept the need for change, and easily adapt their ways of working start to separate from those gently rattling the chains of dissent, all the while professing loyalty to the corporate mothership. Arguments such as “we are already best in class,” “it will never work” and “our customers will not accept offshore customer care” become the chorus of the conscientious objector class, while the recruit keeps an open mind and talks about the fact that the marketplace is global and the corporation is virtual.

During this stage, fact, sincerity and patience constitute the foundations of change messaging, not dissembling and deflection. Meeting objections head-on with fact and demonstrating respect for all opinions, however ill founded, are key to dealing with conscientious objectors, and arming recruits with the tools they need to influence opinion.

If at this stage messaging is effective, it supports a sort of natural selection to the next level — embracer role. However, if change messaging is poorly conceived and implemented, stage one players quickly mutate into guerrillas.

Stage Two: Guerrilla or Embracer. This stage is the change management equivalent of full-scale warfare. Implementation is at a stage where fault and error in transition is easily identifiable and can be spun into a story of corporate gloom and doom by guerrillas intent upon derailing the process. Guerrillas believe they have enough ammunition to present a compelling case to stop the process of change, and, more importantly, enough of a senior constituency to hear their arguments.

At the same time, equipped with the right messaging tools, embracers can solidify their roles as change agents. This requires active support and easily digestible and deliverable messages to combat each and every concern.

Effective messaging during stage two means preparedness, speed and transparency.  Each incident or escalation must have a prepared response at hand, following the mantra of “bad news early, good news often.”

Stage Three: Loyal Opposition or Sponsor. At this point in time, services delivery is at or close to stabilization, and the grumbles of the loyal opposition — those who profess the corporate version of “my country, right or wrong” — become just so much background noise. While, for the most part the initial change battle is won, the background noise coming from the loyal opposition is low level, the change messaging program should be designed to gently disarm the opposition.

At the same time, sponsors need the messages to become evangelists to support continued change — clear, concise stories about what is working, what isn’t, and how the organization will apply services globalization learnings to reach the next level of change.

A messaging program at this stage is not a post implementation afterthought. It positions the organization for continuous improvement and evolution to a target operating model. It fuels the efforts of sponsors to identify other opportunities for transformation, and develops and organic network of confident change agents.

Lady Luck is capricious with her favors. Roll the dice and you win – or lose. But develop the right battle plan to message the change, and effective global services delivery is no longer a game of chance.

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