The “Call to Action:” A Useful Leadership Tool

Call to ActionOne of the most useful tools in the communication and motivation toolbox is the “call to action.” The value to the leader of a strategic initiative?

A well-constructed call to action helps people grasp a vision, contrast it with the status quo, and make a choice about their response.

A call to action is the leader’s request for  specific actions by the audience, supported by a rationale.

A manifesto is a call to action in a written form; probably the most famous example (for Americans) is the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration articulated the case for rejecting the status quo of being a British colony and stating that the signers have established a new nation based on different principles.

Closing Performance Gaps

In an earlier article, I explained that the purpose of a strategic initiative is to close a performance gap; examples could be revenue growth, cost restructuring, or other changes to the business model.  Obviously, when we can provide data describing these performance gaps, we can improve people’s understanding and strengthen their resolve.

Importantly, there is always an emotional dimension to organizational change. A strategic initiative is a rejection of the status quo and with a movement towards a new vision. Stakeholders probably have questions like these: Is any strategic change necessary? Is this the right one?  What is the probability it will succeed? Is making this specific change better than the alternatives? These questions imply objection to the call; thus, leaders to find objections and problems solve.

The Choice to Support a Strategic Initiative

You will always get better support for a strategic initiative if the call for action is presented as a choice, rather than a commandment. The audience’s own sense of integrity will cause accountability. This is much better than creating a governance system that has heavy-handed monitoring and compliance.

Also, experience shows that you will get more support if you can present a small list of alternatives. Chief among them is the take-no-action alternative. Generally a “no action” alternative is the acceptance of the status quo. If people will accept the status, you have to wonder about their ambitions and competitive drive.

More Useful Ideas for Creating a Call to Action

There are several other tools for creating an effective call to action. Here are a few that I have written about:

  • Explore the tension between the “as is” and the “to be.”  Your goal is to describe the contrast, not simply list things in the two categories (the current state of the organization and the new state).  Hint: place the bulk of your energy effort into imagining and describing “what could be.”
  • Use the tool, Five Ways to Socialize a Vision. In particular, the approach of testing a vision is useful. You provide your best expression of a vision, and ask the audience, “What do you like and what don’t you like about the vision?”
  • The technique called the four driving questions is always provides practical insights. The first of the four questions is the important starting point for a call to action: Why are we doing this?
  • Improving your story telling chops.  Make the audience of your call to action the hero. You are asking them to serve.  Certainly there will be sacrifices, so help them see that the sacrifices are worth it.
  • Identify metrics that help to clarify the performance gap. Metrics help to create a signal that cuts through the noise
  • Identify the innovators and early adopters in your target population.  Let them hear the call to action first.  Position your messages with the TACOS criteria.

Prepare for the Refusal of the Call

In movies, the hero (think Luke Skywalker or Frodo Baggins) typically resists the call for action, but eventually realizes that they need to leave behind familiar ways.  In an organization, people need to step out of their comfort zone.

In organizations, people often have so much going on with running the business, that it is difficult for them to change the business. I find it best to acknowledge the imperative to operate the business; I explain the imperative of balancing strategic and operational goals.

If you are setting stretch goals, you will experience “the refusal of the call.”  Just like in salesmanship, prepare for objections and establish a problem solving framework.

How have you – or how might you – use the call to action?


About Greg Githens

Author, How to Think Strategically (2019) Executive and leadership coach. Experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. Seminar leader and facilitator - high-impact results in crafting and delivering strategy, strategic initiatives, program management, innovation, project management, risk, and capturing customer requirements.
This entry was posted in How to Improve Your Story Telling Chops, Transforming the Organization, Useful Practices & Management Tools and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The “Call to Action:” A Useful Leadership Tool

  1. Pingback: Designing Strategic Initiatives for Results: The Two Kinds of Coherence | Leading Strategic Initiatives

  2. Pingback: What’s the #Strategy? Let Me Tell You a #Story | Leading Strategic Initiatives

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