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We all know that leading and succeeding with change of any type is hard work.
As humans, we seem to be stubbornly tethered to the gravitational pull of the status quo, and when presented with change, many of us resist, or, at least take time to process on how the change impacts us as well as our teams and firms. As a result, groups responsible for implementing change often become mired in seemingly endless rounds of boiling the ocean as they share opinions, vent emotions and struggle to gain any traction in moving off of the whiteboard and into meaningful action.
Effective leaders work hard to stop the boiling and move groups towards productive actions. Here are some ideas to support your efforts with this challenging activity.
8 Ideas to Get Your Change Initiative Off the Whiteboard and Moving Forward:
1. Know that Context is King when it comes to explaining the need to change. If you fail to provide a clear, business-focused rationale on why change is needed to support the business (help customers, beat competitors, leverage new technologies, create efficiencies), you will fail. Be careful to drill down far enough to show specifically how the change is intended to improve, solve or leverage something to the firm’s distinct benefit. And remember, what’s perfectly clear to you isn’t as clear to people who’ve just been introduced to this opportunity.
2. Seize the discussion. Most of the energy loss in change-related initiatives takes place in the seemingly endless and often emotionally tinged discussions that swirl around the topic. Leverage techniques such as De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats to gain control of the discussion and importantly, to focus the collective gray-matter on the same topics. I love this discussion management technique because it helps groups segregate issues and emotions and when managed properly, becomes a tremendous value-add to brainstorming, risk assessment and establishing the facts (or lack thereof).
3.Use the battle-hardened best practices of project management. Land a sponsor with political heft and the passion and commitment to help. Charter the initiative in the name of the sponsor and use this document to describe the strategic import of the change initiative as well as to identify the core team members, overall stakeholder group and to bestow both authority and accountability upon the various players. I recommend Eric Verzuh’s powerful and practical book, Fast Forward MBA in Project Management as a must-read and must-keep for all managers.
4. Sprint. Most of us are intimidated by the idea of running a marathon….so don’t turn your project into one. Help your team bite off digestible challenges in shorter working sessions. Keep the agenda narrow enough to allow for discussion focus, capture good ideas and actions, and invite the team to help define the next step. Research the techniques of Agile project management or, The Lean Startup for ideas on approaches that support an iterative and learning-focused approach to driving new initiatives. As appropriate, invest in training for your team members and don’t be bashful about asking an expert to support your efforts for a period of time. If the change-initiative is important, preparing and training your team to succeed must be an important consideration.
5. Mind the Traps when it comes to making decisions. The wonderful thing about groups is their potential for greatness. As Richard Hackman would offer on this comment, “just don’t count on it.” Learn to recognize and mitigate the decision-traps that bedevil groups. After all, decisions are the building blocks of your finished initiative. (Related post: The Management Excellence Toolkit, Part 2, Mind the Decision Traps.)
6. Mix things up by inviting outside viewpoints into the meetings. Nothing energizes a group quite like adding outside expertise to support education and idea discussion around a key initiative. Inviting outside participants fights against the tendency of groups to become insular, and it infuses new context and creativity into the discussions.
7. Beware scope creep. It’s insidious and it often feels right. It’s not. This is an interesting balancing act for many team leaders. Our tendency is to create an explosion and expansion of activities, when the right thing to do is help the team identify the few focal points that will move things forward. Facilitate a prioritization process that ensures focus on the issues and actions needed to promote learning and step-by-step advancement of an initiative. And teach your team to say “no.” As needed, leverage your sponsor for heft on this topic.
8. Recruit extended talent. Encourage team members to draw upon their own respective group members and other constituents for help. Just because a team is responsible for a topic doesn’t mean they are required to personally fingerprint every task. Bring in the subject matter and task experts as needed to accelerate progress and resolve bandwidth problems.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
For many organizations, teams and team leaders, rethinking the approach to pursuing change initiatives can pay huge dividends. It’s natural for people to talk and not commit, and it’s a human issue that we tend to prefer the status quo versus an unknown new vector. If the initiative is important enough to require a group to assemble, “projectize” it, and know that your role as a leader is to help those great discussion topics move from the whiteboard into the world of actions and experimentation.
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An ideal book for anyone starting our in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.