ADVANCE – a framework for transformation

ADVANCE was borne out of thousands of person-hours working on improvement projects, which varied from individuals developing themselves personally, through mentors and coaches facilitating the development of individuals, as well as senior leaders and managers who have teams, departments or institutions to transform in a positive way.

Improvement projects in the workplace can rapidly become complex, as the logic and rationality of systems and processes is called into question by the vagaries of human behaviour and interaction. What might appear to be a relatively trivial task to reduce the lead-time of a process, will often mask a much richer, complicated set of human interactions between different stakeholders.

The more time we spend initiating and managing change, the more we realise that whilst ‘the system’ often receives the blame, it is how the staff interact with the system that causes the challenge.

When we are immersed in such complexity as leaders it can be challenging to retain both our own and our staff’s focus. Larger organisations (especially universities) are practiced at finding work to do, as well as discovering project successes to report, irrespective of whether the original objective was achieved or not.

All too often it is the lack of a clearly articulated vision, that relates explicitly to the domain concerned, upon which suitable checks and balances can be made, that lets an improvement initiative wander off course. What is needed is a model that supports the creation of strategic view that is rooted in the correct environment, whilst also providing explicit links to tactical activities that are a priority for the change implementation.

The ADVANCE model illustrated in Figure 1, encapsulates the essential strategic and tactical prompts for the leadership of change initiatives. It is comprised of two stages.

The first stage is focused upon strategic thinking, and the components contained therein should be completed in order. This stage focuses on developing an in-depth, rich understanding of self awareness, and the environment in which the improvement will be instantiated, that will lead towards a concise but aspirational vision statement.

This is followed by the tactical stage, which contains four key components to work with. There is no predetermined order to working with these principles, and the starting position will vary each time the ADVANCE model is applied. However, each instantiation of ADVANCE will require that all of the tactical aspects are called upon and addressed satisfactorily.

ADVANCE has been successfully used in a number of different ways, across a wide range of business domains. In the main though, ADVANCE is typically employed to lead and coach change in the following three situations:

  • To take complete ownership of personal development. It is not uncommon for individuals to decide that there are aspects of their work or home life that they wish to improve. They make the conscious decision to lead their own development and use ADVANCE as the model.
  • An alternative situation is an individual seeking out the support of an educational trainer or coach, to facilitate their own agenda of self improvement. In such cases. The coaching professional can use the ADVANCE model to help coachees construct their own personal development plan.
  • The third scenario is that of working with groups of people. Increasingly, enterprises are seeking to empower their staff and develop leadership capacity. Managers in such environments find that they now have to lead change by describing a future, aspirational state, before they manage the requisite changes that make the necessary performance improvements. The problem domain may involve small teams, departments or even a whole institution, depending upon who owns and initiates the need for change. ADVANCE helps by ensuring that the essential strategic thinking occurs before moving onto tactical operations.

Reflection is an essential part of the ADVANCE model, and is crucial to its successful implementation, particularly when the tactical stage is invoked. Careful, regular and documented reflection ensures that progress is swift and benefits are realised at the earliest opportunity.

In particularly complex, bureaucratic environments, the reflection aspect of ADVANCE serves to expose unintended benefits that were hitherto obscured by cultural practices, tradition or convoluted systems of processes.

Fig. 1. The ADVANCE Model.

Why do we need another approach to leading change?

A lot of approaches and techniques for performance improvement, transformation or change management, include prescriptive tools and methods of working. Such approaches can work well when the specified tool is suited to its application (or more likely, the environment is sufficiently receptive of the tool).

It is likely that one or more elements of a tightly specified method may not be congruent with a particular domain, and there is a real risk that the whole improvement initiative is derailed. Experience tells us that most change initiatives have a relatively quiet audience that welcomes failure.

ADVANCE addresses this by specifying an over-arching framework of essential activities and principles to work by. Each aspect of ADVANCE creates a checklist of characteristics to identify, specify, discover or facilitate, and it is through the cycle of reflection and evaluation that the leadership of change is adapted, refined and enhanced with respect to the entity that it has been applied to. This enables ADVANCE to be tailored to its application domain, by including tools of choice, as the leader sees fit.

For instance, your experience of developing strategy might have included the classic internal/external analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT).

ADVANCE specifies the outcomes from each stage – how you arrive at the outcome is left for you to specify – and this is one of the fundamental reasons why the applicability of ADVANCE to many different domains (including HE) has been successful.

Similarly, ADVANCE does not differentiate between the leadership of change as a personal activity upon the self, as a development or coaching activity with a line manager or professional coach, nor does it cater only for the leadership of change across a department or institution.

ADVANCE is equally applicable across each of these scenarios, making it increasingly attractive for managers who have demands for leadership placed upon them, yet they recognise that the need for leadership is an opportunity for them to develop.

Such managers often find themselves wanting, with personal shortcomings that they feel the need to address. They’ll also have staff who will benefit from focused coaching, and may also have to turn the whole department around in terms of its overall performance. In such cases the single ADVANCE model can simultaneously serve a number of demands within one framework.

Another significant characteristic of ADVANCE is its ability to be used transparently within an established set of systems. This is of particular use when the domain is complex, and where existing hierarchies and committee structures may already exist.

Monolithic institutions have great difficulty in changing such structures, and the organisational culture may demonstrate hostility towards changes to systems being initiated.

The strategy stage of ADVANCE ensures that not only is an accurate future state described, but that it fits within the existing culture, and that the leader of that change has sufficient self-awareness to see the change through to its conclusion.

This might require some interesting navigation around the current organisation such as committee structures, for instance, and the application of ADVANCE serves to identify and help evaluate both planned and emergent outcomes along the path of implementation. 

Strategic phase

Figure 1 illustrates the ADVANCE Model. Organised in the illustration as a Greek temple, the strategic stage contains three foundation layers, without which the model cannot be constructed. These three layers are explored sequentially, from the ground up.

Awareness

The Awareness layer relates to the object of change. If you are applying ADVANCE to your own personal development, the object is you. If you are coaching a client with regard to their development needs, then the object of the focus is the client. If you have been given 12 months to turn a department/institution around, then the department/institution is clearly the object to be developed.

Definition

Building upon Awareness, we then construct a Definition of the environment in which the object of change resides. This could be an organisational context, or an external market, or the place that an individual finds themselves yearning to escape from. It is focused on discovering essential characteristics about the current environment, that will inform the eventual construction of a Vision.

Vision

The Vision comprises two elements. The first is a description of the future state that is aspired to. The second element identifies the key indicators that will provide evidence of a successful change occurring.

This layer is typically the most concise of all – but it needs careful preparation to be effective, as it is the story that you will need to tell time and time again, until you have achieved your aim.

If your aim is become less anxious about your administration duties, you will need to remind yourself of the sense of calm that you are working towards, and be able to say what it would look and feel like.

If your department needs to become more agile, you will need to be able to not only visualise the enhanced way of working, but be able to relentlessly communicate it to those who will enact the change.

In all cases, the monitoring and reporting of improvement is a key component of success. You will need to see trends that are positive – or at least if they aren’t, understand why without having to cobble together different measures from disjointed data.

Tactical phase

Together, the three strategic, foundation layers prepare the ground for the erection of four tactical pillars: Analytics, Navigate, Cultivate and Externalise.

There is no prescribed order for tactics specified by ADVANCE. Each environment will implement tactics in different ways, some focusing on one or two principles, others choosing to tackle all four at once. Important principles to take note of are:

  • For the tactical phase to work effectively, data is required from the strategic phase;
  • While the starting point in the tactical phase is whatever seems appropriate, from experience it is useful to start with Analytics or Navigate as data (its discovery and consumption) is key to all stages and this is the most quantitative;
  • By the time we are set to Cultivate a culture of positive transformation, it’s much better to have the facts to hand. However, you may decide that the culture needs work before you collect data in earnest;
  • When coaching individuals through ADVANCE, keeping to a sequence can help some clients who can find it difficult to focus.

To summarise, ADVANCE is sufficiently flexible for you to develop your own approach, which may be different for each scenario that you apply it to. The strategy phase (Awareness, Definition and Vision) will give you the most accurate steer on which of the tactical components to commence with.

Analytics

The Analytics component relates to the specific data that is required, and the creation and maintenance of systems to enable its reporting. At its simplest level, it will report against the key indicators that are articulated in the Vision, themselves being related to the study of the environment from the Definition layer. 

However, particularly when the object of change is a complex organisational entity, the overarching measures do not have any meaningful relation to the operational activities that take place.

For instance, how many of your staff read the financial statements of your institution? How do you read and understand them? How distant are the measures from the actual operations?

As such, the Analytics component creates a checklist of attributes and behaviours that will need to be in place to enable effective and meaningful reporting.

Navigate

Navigate helps make explicit the existing mechanisms of change and influence. Where do the power bases lie? Which committee is the most effective? Whose authority is required? Successful navigation of processes and systems can ensure the change initiatives achieve real progress. The Navigate component prompts us to check that the most effective route forward is plotted.

Cultivate

The Cultivate tactic is a reminder of the call to action to develop and grow. Real, lasting, embedded change can only be instigated into an environment that is engaged with the notion of growth.

You might be concentrating upon your own growth, the growth of others, or be you could be concerned with the scale or pace of growth required. If you are responsible for a large operational function you may need work on propagating and delegating the responsibility of cultivation to others, to get the job completed in time.

Externalise

It is common for many of us to ignore any desire to Externalise any results. This might be because of modesty, indicative of a lack of self-confidence, or you haven’t had to do it before and you don’t know where to start. 

However, it is through constant communication of the desired outcome that we can hope to achieve success. A vital component is the function of externalising the success, and using this as a motivational tool to elicit more or accelerated achievement.