Skip to content

Designing Effective Change Tactics Starts With Viable Targets

2022 July 10
by Greg Satell

When we’re passionate about something, we want to take action. We want to launch an initiative, start a business, hit the streets, get stuff done. Yet our bias for action can be a trap that undermines—or even completely derail—our efforts. No matter what our intentions, actions without a sound strategy are doomed to fail.

Corporate change initiatives often start with a big kick-off campaign. These rarely convince anybody of anything, but can trigger opposition and kill the effort before it ever really gets started. People who feel strongly about social change often start by organizing a march. Yet marches are a very flawed tactic, vulnerable to sabotage and rarely achieve anything substantial.

Effective transformation strategy always involves mobilizing people to influence institutions. That’s where you start. Once you’ve determined what your strategy needs to be targeted at, you can begin to design potent tactics. There are time-tested tools that have proven out over decades that can help you do this. If you’re serious about change, you should learn them.

Mobilizing Constituencies

Much like a General maps the terrain upon which a military battle will be fought, the first step in designing effective tactics for a transformation initiative is to map the terrain upon which the battle for change will be fought. The tool that will help you do this is called the Spectrum of Allies, which provides a framework for classifying support and opposition.

In concept, mapping the Spectrum of Allies is a simple exercise. You merely classify who is most likely to be your most active allies, who will be supportive but more passive, who will be neutral, passively opposed and actively opposed. However, there are some nuances that take a little bit of effort to master.

First, it’s important to remember that these are targets for mobilization. In other words, they are groups of people that you want to get on board to actively work to influence institutions. Second, these are not individuals, but more like marketing personas. For example, in an educational initiative, parents, teachers and students are all groups you’ll want to mobilize.

There are a number of ways you can go about recruiting supporters. Many initiatives start simply by feeling people out in private conversations. An announcement in social media can sometimes be helpful as well. One strategy that we’ve seen be enormously effective in organizational initiatives is to hold workshops and see who stays behind after the session.

Every change effort is unique. We have found that even in similar initiatives in similar organizations that there were vast differences in the Spectrum of Allies. Here’s an example from a digital transformation initiative:


Once you’ve mapped the Spectrum of Allies and understand who are your targets for mobilization, you’re ready to move on to identifying your targets for influence.

Identifying Institutional Targets

While mobilizing people to your cause is important and necessary, it is far from sufficient. Just because an idea is popular, doesn’t mean that it will be implemented. In fact, it’s not uncommon for popular ideas to languish for years or even decades. To bring real change about you need to influence institutions that actually have power to enact change.

Think about an all powerful dictator, like Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un. They don’t need to pay much attention to popular opinion because they control all of the institutional power. If they were to lose control of those institutions, however, we could expect a huge change in the status quo! The tool we use to identify institutional targets is called the Pillars of Support.


In the pillar charts above, we can see three very different examples. Notice how the first, taken from our digital transformation initiative, could really apply to any type of organizational change. It is very context specific. The other two, focused on education and political change, are more generic, but would still vary slightly from case to case.

But look at each one for a minute. Think about how much change you could bring about in education if you could influence all of those institutions? Or how you could change a society if you could impact each one of those political pillars. Even in the organizational example, which is very specific, would be somewhat effective in many cases.

Evaluating Institutional Support

Once you’ve identified the institutional pillars that are relevant for your change effort, you will need to analyze each of them in terms of approachability and influence. Below is an example related to the same digital transformation initiative described above, where approachability and influence are rated on a five-point scale.


Once you begin to analyze the institutional pillars it becomes very clear that there are vast differences. HR leadership, for example, is very enthusiastic about digital transformation, while technology and product leadership are much more skeptical. Industry associations and media are enthusiastic, but not very influential. Customers and partners are fairly neutral.

These differences become even more clear once we chart them on a matrix.


Now that we have a good understanding of our targets, we are much better equipped to design tactics that are specifically designed for the people we need to mobilize and the institutions we need to influence.

Designing Tactics

When designing tactics, context is always key. That’s why we analyze the Spectrum of Allies and the Pillars of Support, so that we can understand the people involved and the forces at play. The annotated version of the Pillar Analysis Matrix below shows how we can use that understanding to guide our actions.


In the upper right, “Leaders” quadrant, there are institutions that are both influential and approachable. We’ll want to design tactics that leverage their influence. The “Collaborators” in the lower-right quadrant don’t have as much influence as the “Leaders,” but may have resources we can leverage

On the left side of the matrix the institutions are less approachable. We’ll want to leverage shared values to help bring the influential “Blockers” into a more neutral position. We won’t really need to focus too much on the less influential “Holdouts,” but it may be worthwhile to address their fears in the hope that they will be less disruptive.

To see how this all works out, let’s return to our digital transformation example:


The first action is a hackathon, which is designed to mobilize the Yammer Group members to influence HR and product leadership. Because HR leadership is already supportive, we may want to work with that team exclusively until we can show some success and then leverage those results to win support (or at least neutrality) from product leadership.

The industry associations in our example aren’t super influential, but they are supportive, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to arrange a speaking slot for an executive sponsor which, if successful, could influence all stakeholders. Some best practice exchanges with customers and partners could help move the needle as well.

In practice, this analysis should be updated on a regular cadence (e.g. monthly or quarterly) and combined with OKR’s or KPI’s to track progress. Successful initiatives will often shift the terrain and open up new possibilities even as they render certain tactics less effective. We need to continually adapt to changing contexts.

One thing that I hope is clear by now is how much more effective it is to start with targets rather than tactics. We also find that the process goes much more smoothly when everyone involved has a common language and understanding of the terrain upon which the battle for change will be fought.

Greg Satell is a transformation & change expert, international keynote speaker, and bestselling author of Cascades: How to Create a Movement that Drives Transformational Change. His previous effort, Mapping Innovation, was selected as one of the best business books of 2017. You can learn more about Greg on his website, and follow him on Twitter @DigitalTonto

Need to overcome resistance to change? Sign up for the Adopting A Changemaker Mindset Course today!


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS