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Management tip: Swiss mountain guides and the change equation


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Something just reminded me about “the change equation”. This simple concept was pushed quite hard by Peter Mercury while he was head of customer services at Digital Equipment and head of Compaq Global Services. I think a women in his team invented it, but don’t remember her name. Looking out at sunrise over the Alps this morning made me reflect on the concept and add a slight improvement.

The change equation works like this:

Dissatisfaction with the current state + clear vision of the future + practical first steps > cost (financial and other)

The first three elements have to exist. Teams will not move if they are happy with the current state. You need to establish a “burning platform” from which people have to jump. Teams need to know where they are going, and what the practical steps are in getting there. All of this has to exist where the three points outweigh the cost of getting there.

Simple enough, and I have found it practical to use over the years. We do not have many management metaphors in Switzerland, despite the abundance of mountains. One is relevant. If you have ever had the good fortune to go hiking in the mountains with a guide, one thing becomes evident quite quickly. If the guide gets too far ahead of the group, the group does not speed up. The group simply stops moving. This makes sense for managers too. Yes, it is important to have a clear vision of the mountain you want the team to climb. However, if what you consider to be the next practical steps on the way are too far ahead of where the team is today, they will simply stop moving.

Worthy of reflection, I think. I am sure you have examples.

Maurice FitzGerald - Customer Experience and Strategy consultant
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About the Author


Maurice FitzGerald ecently retired from his position as VP of Customer Experience for HPE Software after a career in hardware, software and services at DEC, Compaq and HP.

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