Article first published on 16th July on The Maverick Paradox magazine website.
Visualising Change Together. Socialised Mavericks use visual techniques to engage partners and colleagues around change.
I was running a couple of workshops earlier this week with healthcare leaders and happened into a discussion about how Socialised Mavericks are particularly skilled at getting others to come along with them, when it comes to change. As we talked about it, a particular lightbulb came on for me as we discussed John Kotter’s  famous insight that people need to see and feel the need for change.
Rational persuasion is seldom enough on its own to win people over to the cause.
At that moment, I realised just how many of the techniques that people respond to in these group situations are in fact visual tools. They spark animated discussions within groups that have a power to engage, and create collaboration, that for some reason words and facts alone do not.
I described one of these tools, the Collaboration Circle, in an article for the Maverick Paradox Magazine in May (read here). That tool is particularly good for visualising stakeholder relationships and figuring out which of those relationships need to be strengthened. The Collaboration Circle always generates an engaging and lively discussion about change that creates greater understanding about what needs to be done, with whom and why.
Visualising Change Together
In a similar way, another tool, the Spider Diagram, always gets the conversation going, in this case around questions of value. In itself, it’s really simple, a visual representation that many people will have seen and may know also as a Radar Diagram or Polar Diagram. I have seen it used by strategists, brand owners, HR professionals, financial controllers, supply chain managers and procurement people.
The Spider Diagram seems to be engaging at a number of levels, helping visualising change together.
First, it’s visual and, as noted, visual tools are unusually effective at creating collaborative conversations. When a group of people with a shared challenge or opportunity face the diagram together, they are focused on a representation of the situation and trying, together, to get it right. It provokes an important debate about the right answer, and the assumptions that underly that answer.
Secondly, it helps to neutralise the way in which we often visualise aspects of value as trade-offs – you can’t have one without the other: low cost vs. high quality, capacity vs. service. Faced with trade-offs, we often argue for one thing over the other – this polarises discussion and creates artificially antagonistic and fixed positions. Hardly a recipe for buy-in to the result! When we use Spider Diagrams, we are considering the importance of all the things that matter, and what the desired state should be. It’s more likely to lead to a win-win outcome.
Thirdly, the process of using the Spider Diagram is inherently designed to be change-oriented: it’s considering how things are now, and how they need to be at a defined point in the future.
How does this tool to create collaborative, visual alignment and change work?
Let me give an example, from one of the earliest situations in which I used the tool. This was with several groups of Finance managers in different countries, all working for a large international pharmaceutical company. The company had engaged in a ten-year global outsourcing contract with a services company, which had taken on most of the day-to-day routine finance work – processing supplier invoices and so forth. The service had got up and running in the first year with a few of the expected teething problems, but there was a feeling that it was not yet doing what the company really wanted, and managers in some countries were openly questioning whether the outsourcing effort had been worthwhile.
With help from the procurement manager who had helped set up the contract, each of the groups listed out the different areas where this contract was supposed to create value for the company. All the groups agreed on the same main five areas, which they plotted out on a flipchart as the arms of the Spider Diagram, like this:
© Spider Diagram 1 – Patrick Ballin
Note that the headings will be different for each situation, so don’t get hung up on what the terms meant for this particular example – they need to be right for the situation. We usually we end up with between 5 and 7 arms.
At the next stage, they discussed how the outsourced supplier was currently performing each of the five areas, on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the best performance (lowest cost, best service, least risk, etc.). This created some debate, which is always the case, and there were some striking differences when we did this with groups in different countries. Those differences were a useful insight for the company, because they indicated a need to probe further in the interests of consistency of service and internal alignment. The results were plotted on the diagram in a coloured pen.
© Spider Diagram 2 – Patrick Ballin
Usually, someone asks if they can mark a 3.5 or a 2.5. I always let them, because it’s the conversation that got them there that is more important.
The third stage with the Spider Diagram is to agree a timescale for change – for example, the end of the current financial year. The actual timing is down to the situation – it’s likely to be shorter if things are changing fast, longer if the pace of change is slower. The important thing is that the timings are relevant to the situation, agreed by the group and that they are defined times, not open ended. They then had to discuss what the desired state was at that point in time. With some groups, this started to create a discussion about trade-offs, and I encouraged them to focus instead on what was important to the business – where do you need it to be by that time? I also encouraged groups to include some ambition and stretch, so not to constrain themselves to what they simply thought it would be, and not to mark everything at a 5 out of 5 unless that really was the result they needed.
The results of this third stage discussion were marked on the Spider Diagram in a different colour.
© Spider Diagram 3 – Patrick Ballin
I’ve had some groups ask if they can add a third time frame, and if that’s appropriate to the situation, then I let them go ahead and do just that as a further step.
Visualising Change Together…
The Spider Diagram exercise in the pharmaceutical company set off a powerful discussion around what was really needed. “We are too concerned about risk and not nearly enough about innovation”, pointed out one Country Finance Director, “yet we took this supplier on because they are world class in innovation – we need to make far more use of those capabilities.”
What’s interesting to me is that simple visual tools like the Spider Diagram always do create a meaningful discussion around change. In this example, the pharmaceutical company changed the agenda for its supplier meetings, with innovation as a standard agenda topic; it worked through the specific country differences; and embarked on an exchange programme so that the company’s staff could spend more time in the supplier’s office, learning from the supplier, and vice versa. The outsourced services supplier even went away and did its own Spider Diagram, which showed some differences between its own expectations – “we thought it was all about low cost and a standard service” – and those of its important international customer – “it’s all about working differently and better”.
I have used this particular tool many times since. Discussions using Spider Diagrams led the operator of a city bike scheme to work more closely on supply chain capacity with one of its main suppliers. An aerospace company realised that it had an insoluble constraint with one of its long-standing service partners in France and started exploring ways to deploy suppliers in other European countries to cover the gap. Last year, I used it with Heads of Learning and Development in several large companies to establish how the drivers for value, planning and change in their work will change over the next five years; setting a cross-company benchmark and uncovering important similarities and differences in how those different companies are approaching the market.
Visualising Change Together… The beauty of tools like the Spider Diagram and the Collaboration Circle lies, in my view, in three main things. Firstly, they are really simply to understand and use. Instead of spending lots of time grappling with the complexities of the tool, groups can get on and have the important conversation. Secondly, the visual nature of the tool encourages the group literally to face the situation together – to be collaborative. And thirdly, as I reminded myself earlier this week, in that lightbulb moment with the healthcare managers, they help us all to see and feel what needs to change. And that is when change starts to actually take place.
 Kotter, J.P. & Cohen, D.S. (2002): “The Heart of Change”, Harvard Business School Press