Implementing change series: Combine active and passive strategies for high-impact results

Implementing a new project, cultural change, movement, etc. is never easy. But one thing that can make it easier is to define each of your strategies as either active or passive.

Dog actively chasing a ball
“photomarathon15” by Delphine Savat, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Implementing a new project, cultural change, movement, etc. is never easy.  But one thing that can make it easier is to define each of your strategies as either active or passive.

Passive vs. Active Strategy

Most of us are familiar with the line from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” This is the classic example of a passive strategy; they build the place for people to enjoy, but they make no effort to encourage people to come. The idea is, if it’s there and people want it, they will find it. While it makes for an inspiring movie, it’s only partially true when it comes to implementing change with results. These types of passive, or indirect strategies, do help support the overall strategy, but they must be mixed with active strategies as well.

An active strategy is much more direct; if you do this action, you can expect a specific result related to your goal directly from that action. For example, in a business, if your goal is to increase sales, branding marketing (image ads, corporate sponsorships of community causes) would be passive to making a sale, while sales representatives asking for purchase, coupons, special sales offers etc. are direct/active strategies.

Examples: Politics and OER

One example that I think can hit home for everyone right now is politics. Instinctively, we all know that complaining about politics or debating with our contacts on social media isn’t going to lead directly to change. We may change a mind, eventually, but that isn’t going to solve the larger issues.

  • Holding a demonstration or protest: Most people would think that this is active, but, since it usually won’t lead to changing someone’s mind or changing an outcome, it’s passive
  • Calling your elected representatives and asking them to vote a specific way on a bill: Active
  • Venting on Facebook: Passive
  • Donating to an organization who will directly go and advocate for change: Passive for you, but active in the sense that you are financially supporting someone else to directly ask for change (which you may not be able to do on your own)

In my work for Rice University’s OpenStax, I consult with colleges and universities to encourage faculty to transition to Open Educational Resources (OER), including free textbooks. As part of this process, each school writes a strategic plan that includes specific strategies they will complete to encourage faculty to adopt. 

The question I always ask them is: Does this strategy involve you directly asking faculty to adopt an OER? If the answer is yes, then you have a active/direct strategy, if the answer is no, then you have a passive strategy.

  • Having a display of OER textbooks on the campus. The faculty will see them and look at them and consider adopting them: Passive
  • Going to a faculty member’s office and asking them to pilot an OER:  Active
  • Hosting a faculty panel discussion about OER: Passive
  • Having a sign-in sheet at the above panel and following-up with each attendee afterward individually to ask them to adopt an OER: Active
  • Offering grants in exchange for adoption: Active

Combining Passive and Active Strategies for Results

The key is not to eliminate passive strategies, the goal is to mix both passive and active strategies in a way that creates momentum.

For example, this blog post is a passive strategy, but if I send it to people so they know the difference between the two types of strategies and then use that to help them incorporate both into a strategic plan, that creates momentum. If the protest/demonstration you hold drives PR and traffic to your website, you can use that traffic to ask them to sign-up for more information, sign a petition, etc. thus turning that passive strategy into a way for you to move forward with more resources and support.

The most important thing is that you identify and consider your combination of passive and active strategies and plan for effective results.

Measure success by results, not actions

Quick quiz: Which answer would you prefer if you were the one asking the question?

 

Did you get your grades up?

a) I studied more and spent more time at school.

b) Yes, my grades now all B’s or better, up from C’s and D’s.

 

Did you sell more of our company’s chocolate?

a) We spent $100,000 in advertising and had sales reps pitch over 100 grocery store chains a special chocolate package.

b) Our sales of chocolate are 50% higher this year than last year, increasing our profits by $500,000.

 

Have you impacted our school’s students with free textbooks?

a) We formed a committee that meets regularly. We also held a workshop and a webinar.

b) Compared to last year of 600 students using free textbooks, we now have 3,000 students using free textbooks, saving them approximately $300,000 this year. Our class drop rate has declined by 10%, and our students are doing as well or better in the courses with free textbooks.

 

Did you increase our employee retention?

a) We conducted a survey and found out why our employees are unhappy. We plan to have a forum to share the results. Then we will decide next steps.

b) Currently we’re losing 10% of our workforce each year. We conducted a survey and used those results to create the following next steps. Our goal in the next 12 months is to use these steps (including a forum) to reduce our employee turnover to 5% from the current 10%.

 

Actions (all a’s above) are important steps to results and they can be powerful goals on the way to results, but they aren’t results. To be truly successful in your initiative, decide what result (all b’s) you want to see, and measure your success by that.