Principle 2: Find the gap (or dissatisfaction)

shutterstock_61395928I run –  not long distances but quite regularly, typically twice a week. My standard run is precisely 5k (as measured by and combines road running with a loop through a park. I do have an extended version which adds another 2k to this if I feel like it – then I disappear more completely into the countryside.

Do I think my running is going well?

Is it a good thing or a bad thing? (my wife tells me that running is not good for your knees)

Do I need to change what I am doing?

It depends.

It depends crucially on why I run. (This is why the first principle is such an important starting point in change.) Only if you understand why I run do you stand a chance of understanding if it is really fulfilling its purpose and hence if I need to change. This then is the second principle for wholehearted change – find the gap or, as I have heard it described, ‘the dissatisfaction’ with where you are. Identifying and expressing this dissatisfaction is vital in helping people to see the need to move.

The gap

The gap is what lies between what is the best fulfilment of our purposes and where we are.

You might think that identifying this gap depends on clear visioning. This helps but, as Robert Fritz (a co-conspirator of Peter Senge) highlights in his book, ‘The Path of Least Resistance’, the bigger difficulty is often to see our present reality. The size and nature of the gap that change needs to close can be difficult to spot.

We fool ourselves about where we are. We like reasons and excuses. We prefer to alter our perceptions rather than change an uncomfortable reality. We readily deceive ourselves, even as organisations, about how well we are doing.

A key task in creating wholehearted change is to help people to see this gap clearly. This needs creativity and challenge.

After all without a problem no-one has a need for a solution.

The leaders’ role

The leaders’ role is critical if the gap is to be understood well and in a timely fashion. Leaders need to mine for the gap and help map its shape and express it powerfully.

The gap needs to be painted in full colour. I like mono-causal explanations and answers, they make for good headlines and easy thinking. Unfortunately they are most often wrong. A gap has to be examined from different angles and calibrated if it is to be really understood. Only then can the nature of change be well understood and be assuredly beneficial.

It might be to do with poor execution, a lack of focus or energy, weak outcomes, misunderstood needs, or downright failure.

The gap can be positive (there is an opportunity for us to grow significantly if we move quickly…) or negative (our margins will be halved unless we address this challenge…) .In practice, it helps for it to be both, because different people take to different messages and each group needs it expressed in ways that are relevant to them.

This encourages an approach that:

1. Reexamines the strategy

This may be captured in writing or simply in the priorities and action of the leadership team. Either way gaining clarity on the strategy that the organisation is following and the results that it is producing – especially in relation to its external environment (competitors, customers, stakeholders etc) is a great place to start to compare reality with purpose and desire. Where are the gaps? What have we agreed that is important are we not making progress with? Where is reality pinching?

2. Draws on multiple sources

There are many powerful sources that can help challenge perceptions. Leaders should use multiple sources of input – internal, external, quantitative, qualitative, financial, illustrative and statistical. The variety is important to unlock perceptions and stimulate the creativity to set new goals. I have seen a face-to-face discussion with a key customer executive expose the enormous gaps in the perceptions of how well this customer was being served. In another instance a new graphic of market share (aka a ‘killer chart’) opened people’s eyes to the need to change market strategy. It can be difficult to anticipate exactly what will open people’s eyes which is why variety is valuable.

Other powerful inputs include ‘voice of the customer’ exercises, staff surveys, key stakeholder interviews, discussions of values, financial and market analyses, and scenario based workshops (to name but a few).

Sometimes the most surprising data point unlocks sight for the blind.

3. Involve people in finding the gap

There can be a tendency to do gap finding behind closed doors. After all, it’s strategic and sensitive. The truth can be painful. Yet finding gaps is a process of learning and for people to move forward wholeheartedly they need to learn. We all learn more easily when we are involved and engaged. Leaders seek ways to involve people in the process.

How might this look?

There are many ways to advance this kind of agenda…

  • Identify different topics with allied questions – by function or stakeholder group – and ask small groups of staff to examine them and come back with the data and issues that these raise
  • Work with people on ‘why are we here?’  to generate a ‘best version’ to aim for and then ask people to identify where they see shortfalls in what’s happening at the moment
  • Organise an ideas ‘jam’ that captures everyone’s input on areas to develop, issues to resolve, ideas or priorities
  • Benchmark with other organisations and use multi-function teams to do the reviews
  • Conduct detailed diagnostics in specific areas and then review the data and hypotheses with involved staff
  • Share your organisation’s ‘best version’ and invite ‘post it’ comments and ideas (in communal meeting places or online) inviting new goals and challenges
  • Use successive leadership meetings to identify and discuss the biggest challenges facing the organisation and to develop challenges that can be parcelled out to teams for solution development

The creative gap

As for my gap?

People run for many reasons. In my case I run for my health – both physical and psychological. I want to keep alert and relatively fit. I do not like gyms. I prefer exercise outside. I do not want to run marathons or go a lot faster. However, I need to be more consistent. For maximum psychological impact I need to run at particular times of the day rather than simply when I can fit it in. Similarly I need to run more consistently – at 2-day intervals.

These are my big gaps….and the music on my iPod needs changing. That is a small gap. Oh and I need new shoes (This blog has just cost me £72.26).


Principle 1 provides forward momentum – the wind in the sails that is needed to change – and a direction to press towards.

Principle 2 sparks the need and the urgency. It acts to pull people forward into change. If people are clear and committed to a purpose then the gap acts as a moral imperative. It performs just like a vacuum in nature. People seek to resolve the tension.