Applying Collective Impact to Lead Successful Change

“Teamwork divides the task and doubles the success.” – Unknown

Applying Collective Impact To Lead Successful Change 2014-04-08

Our April blogs are addressing the Individual Values and Needs dimension of the Burke-Litwin model for organizational performance and change. This dimension seeks to explore the employee’s opinion about his work so as to identify the quality factors that will result in job enrichment and better job satisfaction.

How would you solve this dilemma? You are a newly appointed senior executive hired to run a global function with a staff of hundreds spread across the globe. Your six-person leadership team is a diverse mix of new comers and company veterans. Each leader has distinct needs they are trying address, which, without malice, often seem at odds with the other leaders’ needs. How can you rally your leadership team to gel and move into high performance mode?

In a perfect world, leaders would be able to recruit the exact fit for their teams, in terms of personal style, abilities and skills mix. In reality, this situation is not typically possible. So, what can you do? Consider collective impact.

Opower 2014-04-08Collective Impact is a highly structured collaborative effort that achieves substantial impact on a large scale, while also considering individual needs and values. For example, think of a successful sports team (Phil Jackson taking quite a cast of highly individual but talented characters to win multiple world championships for the Chicago Bulls). Or, consider Opower, an energy software company who started trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday, who is demonstrating how young tech entrepreneurs can tackle meaningful problems — like energy efficiency and climate change — and still achieve the Silicon Valley dream of financial success.

Collective impact is not just a swanky name for collaboration. It represents a fundamentally different, more disciplined, and higher performing approach to achieving large-scale change and impact. The Stanford Innovation Report highlights five key conditions that distinguish collective impact from other types of collaboration, where the individual needs and values drive the shaping of a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and the presence of a backbone organization.


ACTION: Apply the Five Conditions of Collective Impact on Your Change Initiatives

As a change leader, you can position your team to make collective impact by addressing these five key conditions.

Condition How to Address
1. Common Agenda All participants have a shared vision for change, including a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed upon actions.
2. Shared Measurement Collecting data and measuring results consistently across all participants ensures efforts remain aligned and participants hold each other accountable.
3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities Participant activities must be differentiated while still being coordinated through a mutually reinforcing plan of action.
4. Continuous Communication Consistent and open communication is needed across the many players to build trust, assure mutual objectives and create common motivation.
5. Backbone Support Repeating and managing collective impact may require a separate organization(s) with staff and a specific set of skills to serve as the backbone for the entire initiative and coordinate participating organizations and agencies.

Source: Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work. Stanford Social Innovation Review. 26 January 2012.



As I noted in last week’s blog, a leader that ignores or negates the individual’s needs is setting her team up for failure. Instead, consider how you can take a collective impact approach, allowing the group to make substantial progress while appropriate accounting for individual needs and values.

My client, the leader mentioned at the start of this blog, has quite a task in front of him. He will need to create the opportunity and motivation necessary to bring people who have never before worked together as a team and hold them in place until the momentum from their new agenda takes over. I believe he has what it takes to achieve collective impact success:

  1. Be dynamic enough to account for individual needs and values of his team
  2. Command the respect necessary to bring people together and keep their active engagement over time
  3. Be passionately focused on solving the problems he was hired to solve but also willing to let his leaders figure out some of the answers for themselves, rather than always promoting his particular point of view.

How about you? How do you think you measure up? Where and how can you improve? Let me know how I can help you continue to lead change successfully.

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Sandra Schwan

Sandra Schwan

Managing Partner at Evolving Strategies LLC
Sandra is the Managing Partner of Evolving Strategies LLC, a consulting firm helping companies and people learn, adapt and perform. Sandra holds a Master of Science degree in Adult Learning and Strategic Organizational Change from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Arkansas. Previous employers include the Corporate Executive Board, Lante Corporation, Kensington International, and Accenture where Sandra was awarded mentor of the year.

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