In July 1988 a Natural Gas drilling platform called the Piper Alpha caught fire. It was one of the worst oil rig disasters of all time.
The Helicopter pad of the Piper Alpha was 170 feet above the frigid surface of the North Sea. When the fire broke out many people tried to escape the inferno but were trapped by the exploding natural gas. 167 people perished in the fire, but some survived. A group of 14 workers battled through the smoke and flames to make it to the Helicopter pad in hopes of rescue. The fires grew larger and eventually consumed the helicopter pad completely. One person survived. He jumped 170 feet from the platform, with no survival suit into the North Atlantic. He was interviewed in an Aberdeen Scotland hospital the next day. The question was
“How could you do it? Jump 170 feet from the platform into the freezing North Sea?”
“The decision was really made for me… it’s was either fry or jump, so I jumped” (quote at 2:56 on the above video)
The Burning Platform Problem.
To be successful in making a big change, for example change of a client’s core systems or processes, you must have a burning platform. A state where the cost of maintaining the status quo is prohibitively high. You have to jump.
If you don’t have a burning platform the natural human instincts take over. Stay on the helicopter pad, wait for rescue. We’ll be safe here. Large scale systems cause massive organizational change. It effects how everyone does their day-to-day jobs, it may change their roles, their compensation and their value to the organization. To provide an example, let’s assume that a certain process (ie. production scheduling) is very complex and perhaps even more an art form than a science. Bob, the scheduler has been working at ABC company for 30 years, he is the defined expert in this area. He is highly respected by all and the President regularly walks by and says to Bob, “I don’t know how we would run this place without you!". Now the company has grown. There are more manufacturing plants than there are “Bobs” and they need a new system end-to-end to support their growth.
Ask yourself this question. If you were Bob, how much support will you give the new system initiative? If Bob looks from his perspective, his highly valued position in the organization is in jeopardy but if he thinks from a corporate perspective and see’s he is on a burning platform, he will jump.
President – “I’d like you all to participate with the consultants to put in the new system.”
President – “We are growing fast. So fast in fact we are getting into trouble. We don’t have enough experienced people in all of our plants, to do the great work we could do when the company was small. Our customer’s are getting upset because we aren’t delivering on time. It’s do or die. Our future depends on your ability to put all the great knowledge you have into the new system, so that others can benefit from your experience and knowledge and we as a company can survive our growth.”
The role of your client’s leadership is to articulate the burning platform. To make it clear that the the entire organization needs to jump, that the risks are worth it and perhaps most importantly, there is no Plan B.
A client may or may not have ever seen a company-wide system implementation. As consultants, we have. Part of our responsibility for the solution is technical but there is more to it than that as the system isn’t a success unless the client see’s the promised benefits through the full adoption and productive use of the solution. Our role is to encourage our clients to not focus solely with the technical implementation, but to also recognize that for a solution to be successful their people need to be willing to make the jump.
So tell your client …What does it take to make a big change? A burning platform.
When the President was ready to announce the project, he rented a local theatre and invited the the entire company to get a preview of the future. The future system. The purpose:
- to communicate a vision,
- to get buy-in to a multi-year project,
- to ask for input, participation,
- to start the process of organizational change that will reinvent the company and
- to set the current platform on fire.