How to Play the Long Game

Playing the long game when you’re managing a change effort can be incredibly difficult. I’ve led change in programs that have spanned 5-7 years, and they can feel longer than the wait for the last Avengers movie (or, so I hear, maybe even the movie itself).

Here are some guiding principles to keep in mind if your change program is huge, complex and spans over a long timeframe:

  • Stay grounded in your Vision. Your vision paints the picture of what you’re trying to achieve and will explain, in a simple way, how things will actually work when you achieve it. It sets a direction for your company and underscores its purpose. And, while your Vision describes what your organization aims to achieve over the long term, it can (and should) evolve over time as the future becomes the present
  • Keep your Roadmap evergreen. Knowing all the moving pieces and parts is essential for success, but sometimes it’s easy to get lost in a sea of dependencies that ultimately may not matter. Focus on your critical path and the essential pieces that have to be complete with each piece of the puzzle and know what “success” actually looks like. Expect your Roadmap to change and evolve as you check off short-term wins and chart the best path forward.
  • Manage your pace to avoid burnout. Consider giving your stakeholders and change agents the option to “swap out” over time. Consider the day-to-day tasks that your project resources are responsible for and identify ways to off-load time consuming tasks that cause over-work and burnout over time.
  • Keep grounding your communications in the “why”. Of course the business case is important, but your case for change has to include the right story to influence hearts and minds that the future will be better than the past.
  • Split things into manageable parts to achieve some short-term wins along the way. It’s almost impossible to keep your momentum going when the goal line is so far ahead. Find a way to experiment, test your solutions and pilot your change. Identify significant milestones and celebrate their achievement, even if they only take you part way toward your goal.
  • Celebrate your short-term wins and recognize/ reward your team along the way. People always love to be celebrated; find unique ways to recognize key contributors and thank key sponsors and stakeholders for sticking with you along the way.
  • Keep your stakeholders and change agents engaged. Stakeholder Engagement and Change Network plans are essential for long-term projects. Make sure you dedicate the right amount of time & resources to keep your key stakeholders engaged and informed about the project’s progress. Be transparent about your successes and failures along the way. And remember…when people sense a communications “void”, they typically begin to make assumptions that may be right or wrong, but create a rumor mill regardless.

Sheri Browning is a Partner at PeopleResults. You can reach her at or on Twitter @sbPResults.