What Really Makes Change Fail?

This post by Steve Barlow intrigued me: I think he has some great insights, and the idea that we are not “change fit” is a new idea for me.

I agree completely that people are usually delighted with change they see as an improvement e.g. mobile phones, the Internet, on-line shopping, Sunday shopping etc (though you will find people who hate all of these things). Forcing change on people, when they don’t see the benefit, fear they will be worse off and don’t see why it should happen, quite naturally falls far short of a no-brainer!

I like the idea, though, that even desirable change fails because of mental flabbiness!

Looking at the metaphor Steve offers; I know why my New Year’s resolutions fail – the pain of changing my lifestyle in the short term outweighs the long-term benefit (no pain, no gain). It never ceases to amaze me the obsessional self-sacrifice it takes to become an Olympic athlete – how do they do it?

I think there are 2 key factors:

  • They invariably have a coach who eggs them on and sets just-achievable goals
  • They are able to visualize success in a very realistic way – what it will feel like to mount the podium and collect their gold medal – and how they will win – every move, muscle twitch, metre of track etc

Coming back to business change, what can we draw from the parallel?

  • I believe that project leaders need to act like coaches, encouraging the team and setting challenging but achievable goals
  • I believe that project leaders must support all stakeholders in understanding and feeling the benefits of the objective, explaining how they will get there and soothing fears of the unknown

These are 2 very different skills sets – planning and communication, but both are clearly essential for success in my experience.

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The vision – key to success

Many years ago, I learned that building a shared vision and working towards it was vital in married life. I’ve also found the same to be true of business change.

Reading this article on documenting a clear vision reminded me of two discussions with prospective clients; both had decided what they wanted to do without having a clear vision of where they wanted to get to. When I started to investigate their vision, I ended up with the reaction “you’re too strategic”.

I speak from bitter personal experience that it is very easy to get busy doing tactical things that take you in the wrong direction if you don’t have a clear vision of where you’re trying to get to. Losing stakeholder support is even easier if you can’t share a clear definition of what you’re trying to achieve.

I’ve found you can’t be too strategic when it comes to being clear about where you want to get to, and it really helps to take stakeholders with you if they can see what it will be like when you get there.

Lessons half forgotten need remembering (before it’s too late)!

Earlier this week I nearly succumbed to breaking my own “Rule 1” – briefly considering being away for part of a crucial business audit.

Fortunately I rallied and came back to decide firmly to “Be There”.  It does highlight how we can all slip from the disciplines that we’ve learned the hard way when the last failure to apply them slips outside the pain memory.

I’ve blogged most of my golden rules before, individually, but I thought now was the time to refresh them, all together:

Rule 1 – Be There!

Rule 2 – Stop blame if humanly possible

Rule 3 – Be easy and rewarding to help

Rule 4 – Don’t RELY on people showing initiative

Rule 5 – When the pressure looks like rising, manage YOUR workload – the 3 Ds

Rule 6 – Keep communicating

Rule 7 – Don’t let your performance in your own role slip because you’re covering for someone else

Rule 8 – Always keep an audit trail for all decisions, and keep up to date with the paperwork

Rule 9 – If there isn’t enough resource, say so! Don’t struggle on in silence

Rule 10 – Never rush the planning!

Rule 0 – Always apply the other rules!!!

I now realize that I need to cover rules 7 – 10; should keep me busy for another week or two.

Just re-reading these has shown that I’m on the slippery slope – I need to apply them to my current assignments before it’s too late!

The Gift of Learning from Mistakes

I just saw an article on learning from his mistakes by Hirisho Mikitani. This is a common theme amongst entrepreneurs, Peter Jones is another that says that much of what he learned about business comes from going bankrupt.

This is very much at odds with the way many organizations treat errors – in some, witch hunts, punishment and expulsion are the norm; in others, there is a complete disregard for learning from mistakes.

The hard truth is that most people learn much better from getting their fingers burned than kind words.

It is vital that organizations learn by their mistakes if they are to evolve, grow and prosper – this makes a culture is which mistakes are accepted, analysed and learned from a strategic priority!

Leadership: best by example?

Just been marking assignments that analyse projects that fail to deliver a quality outcome i.e. the right solution on time and budget. These assignments are from people with responsible jobs in big-name companies.

Earlier this week I was running a workshop with engineering and project delegates from a global energy company. I asked them to analyse the reasons that quality wasn’t always delivered in their company.

2 years ago I was leading an innovative project for a multi-national manufacturer of consumer goods, which went well during feasibility, but got into major difficulties after I handed over the implementation.

The pattern is very clear; executive-level managers are normally focussed on numbers, and know the cost of everything. Unfortunately they are often so divorced from the reality of the coal face that they know the value of nothing (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde), and are reliant on robust cost-justifications coming up from the “front line”.

This gulf between the people doing the work and the executives prevents leadership by example i.e. “do what I say, not what  I do”.

The contrast with my recent project at the University of Manchester couldn’t have been greater. Not only did I try to lead the project team by example, living by the standards that I hoped others would adopt, but I found that the executives involved were doing the same, displaying a real enthusiasm for rolling up their sleeves and pitching in as needed, and everyone was happy. The outcome? We overcame all the challenges to deliver a successful launch.

I’m told that isn’t always the case there either, so perhaps I can take some credit for an approach to leadership that transfers between organization. It’s not about process or tools, it’s about values and behaviours – friendship, trust, support, sharing problems, solving issues together, and no “blame storms”.

Leadership is about “Do as I do”, not “Do what I say.”

Why first…

Some time back I went to a course on “telling my story” run by Andrew Thorp, of MojoLife.

He stressed the point that people are most moved not by what you can do for them, but why you do it – your passion is your biggest asset in sales.

He drew on the work of Simon Sinek on TED – I just watched Simon’s TED video – worth watching, as it it indicates clearly why so many large companies are in trouble.