The Change Investment Portfolio:  A Practical Tool For Transformational Change Leaders

by | Nov 12, 2020 | Board Savvy Transit CEO Blog Archive, Board-CEO Involvement in Innovation/Change Management

The November 6 post at this blog features Andre Colaiace, Executive Director of Access Services in Los Angeles County, CA, as a prime example of a new-style chief executive:  the Transformational Change Leader.  The post describes 5 key attributes of CEOs who succeed at leading transformative change, including being “laser-focused” on very concrete change initiatives that are the polar opposite of the “Christmas list” of goals found in traditional long-range strategic planning tomes.

My and David Stackrow’s book Building a Solid Board-CEO Partnership ( describes a very powerful change-focused planning logic and methodology that have been developed and successfully tested in all sectors – for-profit, public and nonprofit – in recent years:  the Change Investment Portfolio Process.  In a nutshell, the Portfolio Process, which is run parallel to, and separate from, your authority’s business-as-usual operational planning/budget development process, produces out-of-the-box change in the form of concrete projects that we can call “change initiatives.”  These change initiatives are housed in what you might call your authority’s “Change Investment Portfolio,” where they are pilot-tested and eventually mainstreamed into the annual budget and ongoing operations – or occasionally abandoned if they’ve proved unworkable.

The change initiatives housed in your authority’s Change Investment Portfolio are intended to address a small number of issues – think of them as “change challenges” – that your authority is facing, in the form of opportunities to grow – in terms of service diversification, revenue generation, or customers – and challenges and threats to your authority’s future stability and growth.  By far the most challenging aspect of the Portfolio Process is to select the “right” issues to address:  the ones that are so high-stakes and so complex that you could not reasonably expect them to be handled effectively through the parallel, business-as-usual operational planning/budget development process.  Never forget that your annual operational planning/budget development process is a very effective vehicle for dealing with the great majority of issues your organization is facing at any particular time, but there will always be issues you wouldn’t want to trust to mainstream planning.

Each of the change initiatives being managed in your authority’s Change Portfolio at any particular time will have its own time frame, which is why arbitrary cycles such as three or five years make no sense.  For example, let’s say that your authority is handling four change initiatives in its Portfolio right now:  ((1) developing and pilot testing a new partnership with Uber (18 months); (2) re-designing its governance structures and processes (24 months); (3) re-designing its bus routes (30 months); and (4) launching an image-building initiative (6 months).   The Portfolio Process is by design highly selective for the simple reason that your authority’s resources – in staff time, money, and technical capability – are limited.  The Portfolio Process is at the opposite pole from “supermarket planning” lists of ten, fifteen, or more goals.  In my and Dave’s years of involvement in the change business, we’ve never seen a transit authority effectively manage more than three to five major change initiatives concurrently at any given time.  Of course, as change initiatives are implemented, they drop out of the Portfolio and are integrated into your authority’s operating plan and budget, and new change initiatives are regularly added to your Portfolio.

Keep in mind that what we’re talking about couldn’t be more different from the old-time notion of a “strategic” umbrella (consisting of five-year goals and strategies), within which your authority would presumably develop its annual operating plan and budget, which in theory is tied back to the goals and strategies that your umbrella encompasses.  So far as we can tell, these ties have always been more theoretical and aesthetic than practical.  Instead, think of parallel processes that proceed concurrently.  During every fiscal year your authority prepares next year’s annual operating plan and budget (your “in-the-box” planning), while concurrently – but through a separate and parallel process – your authority manages change initiatives in your Change Portfolio and adds new change initiatives to the Portfolio to address new issues that your authority’s board and executive team have identified.  These two separate and parallel processes typically share a common starting point (usually a daylong planning retreat kicking off the annual planning cycle and are linked at the end by the mainstreaming/budgeting of completed change initiatives into the annual operating plan.

About the Author: Doug Eadie

President & CEO of Doug Eadie & Company, Inc., Doug Eadie assists CEOs in building rock-solid partnerships with their transit boards.

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