Creating Imperatives

In the general sense, leveraging imperatives as a driver for action represents a useful motivator at the organizational and leadership levels. By consistently conveying that the foundation on which something currently exists is going to come to an end or a highly undesirable event will occur, an organization will likely adopt over time the belief that something must be done.

When executed correctly, it makes doing nothing a non-option. For example, public sector organizations often rely on older technologies where the pain of continuing to maintain and use a system is perceived to be less than the pain of transitioning to something newer. Individuals occasionally leverage the concept of a burning platform in such scenarios by painting the picture of how the old technology will almost certainly fail, perhaps soon, and when it does the parts or expertise to fix it simply won't be highly available which could grind activities to a halt.

In the private sector imperatives are often defined in terms of their focus on value creation. A private sector imperative, for example, is releasing a new product or entering a new market to exploit a niche or keep up with competition. In the public sector, the successful use of imperatives is often focused on identifying and highlighting risk, not opportunity. Developing specific scenarios or vignettes describing the impacts of non-action - public outcry, congressional investigations, lawsuits, an idle workforce – helps make the individuals who need to be influenced or make a decision sense both the potential pain and the organizational and professional risk. The burning platform plays to the heart of a risk averse culture. The more the risk is spelled out, the more effective the concept typically works.

The biggest risk in using imperatives is over or mis-using them. They are a powerful technique but can diminish credibility when used in less than ideal circumstances. In one organization, an individual developed a presentation describing the significant risk and damage the agency would face if it failed to effectively manage the use of Microsoft® Project Server®, a project management software platform. The organization was unconvinced. Imperatives are applied best when real risk, preferably nearer term can be highlighted to motivate individuals into action or decisions.