The Hotel Lobby Napkin Sketch | The 52 Minute Change Exchange


Where does “change management” actually take place?

  • Is it in a transformation programme weekly team meeting?
  • Or in a project progress review meeting?
  • Or in an exec meeting to review transformation strategy?
  • Or how about bumping into someone in the car park to chit chat over an issue that is causing some problems?
  • Or what about overhearing someone talking about this or that on a project you are working on in the lunch queue?

The answer, is in all of these places, and many more.

Some of the more interesting for me have been during taxi rides, over coffee in airport lounges, getting into lifts and unexpectantly getting involved in conversations that lead to new opportunities and (my favourite) sketching out improvement strategies and plans on napkins in hotel lobbies. I’m sure you can think of some similar to these.

And perhaps one of the best examples of a TV show portraying the complexities of change management and these kind of meetings in action was The West Wing and the infamous “Walk and Talk” scenes which seemed to occur in every episode, like this one:

These types of ad-hoc meetings can all be very powerful ways to get stuff done. But why leave it to chance? So how about creating the right conditions to recreate the taxi, car-park, lunch queue, lift or lobby conversations?

Organise the meeting with the right people and you can move mountains. 

So here’s the idea. Create short, focused meeting opportunities called “Change Exchanges” to focus on driving improvement to support the current in flight change projects underway. By identifying important issues that are impacting the business and by resolving these, the overall transformation of the business will be accelerated. This is about creating and enabling the right ‘environment’ for successful change management to be really effective.

Instead of having the change discussion in the hotel lobby, get the people who would be on that sofa with you together to consider and exchange ideas on addressing each issue. It’s a bit like building a wall, think of these as the cement to keep the important “change building bricks” together. In my experience, change exchanges are most powerful when they are made up of people who are involved in change projects in the business and have a vested interest in transforming a business.

Note, these are not project or programme management meetings or times to theorise or hold moaning sessions – they are pragmatic, outcome focused meetings to turbo charge change. You need sleeves rolled up, strategic thinkers who have good hooks into the business.

Here’s what works for me:

1. Identify 2 or 3 issues that are bubbling away that may not necessarily need immediate action but would benefit from this approach. These can come from various sources and filtered through various people in the business. Some examples include; how do we overcome resistance in X area?, how can we get the Y work stream delivery time accelerated?, how can we surface some findings to the exec team before the upcoming board review etc. (I keep an ongoing list of these that can be used or referred to in a number of ways such as project reviews, stakeholder updates etc.)

2. Identify 4-5 people who all have a vested interest in transforming the business or can help address the issues. Again, avoid inviting the kind of people I mentioned earlier – none of them will help you out here and it’s not a meeting for passengers.

3. Get in touch with each person and personally ask them if they would like to be involved in the meeting. Say it’s low key and its off the radar – this is about exchanging ideas to drive change.

4. Once you have done this, send out an invite and agenda at least 48 hours before the meeting. Clearly set out the 2 or 3 issues you will be covering to get people thinking about what we could do.

5. Start the meeting at 5 minutes past the hour. Why this time? It will give people enough time to finish up any previous meetings.

6. And here is the key thing about what I believe an impactful change exchange meeting needs to deliver; focusing hard on the 2 or 3 key outcomes and spending time zeroing in on how to address each.

7. Spend 10-15 minutes on each issue then move on. Brainstorm what is happening, why and what needs to happen next.

8. Wrap up with the actions; owners, timelines for delivery and close the meeting in the 52 minute timeframe. Give people time to get to their next appointment. Then send out the minutes on the same day of the meeting and then you should have a good plan to address the issues. Anything that come up in the discussion that falls out of the scope you are discussing can go in the list I mentioned earlier for future exchanges.

The Change Exchange should be invisible to the business, and if you can work your network to encourage some like minded people to get together to work on a few issues, you can help transform your business and help ‘cement in’ other change projects underway.

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