Monday, May 31, 2010

Getting Change Done

I am responsible for helping set strategy and direction. When I change current direction, the change may be a little. Or, it may be a lot. The greater the change, the greater potential for angst among the people impacted.

No executive wants to cause her team additional stress. On the other hand, no executive wants to maintain status quo and allow his business to fold. Navigating this tension is difficult. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way to ease (but not eliminate) this tension.

Start doing, stop talking
Once you know the direction you want to go, start walking. Planning is needed, but not at the expense of learning. You seldom know how things will turn out, so begin to execute and make adjustments. Plan enough to get you started and to share the general direction and goals with key team members. That may mean a few hours or a few weeks – that depends on the scope and magnitude of the strategy to execute. Here are some recommendations:

  • Encourage key team members to find the quickest items to start executing, as well as defer everything that doesn’t need to be known immediately.
  • Reinforce to them you aren’t looking for perfection and you expect adjustments to be made continually along the way.
  • Lay out significant milestones and ask for a plan to achieve them. They own the plan (how); you own the results (what).

Stay focused on the storyline, not the sentences
I recently worked with my team to deploy a new (to us) suite of development tools. Do I agree with every configuration and option the team selected? In honesty, I can’t answer the question because I don’t know every configuration and option the team selected. I am pretty sure if I reviewed every choice, there are things I would do differently.

That doesn’t matter.

What matters is that the tools are deployed effectively to increase the efficiency of the development team. In other words, allow the team to determine how the change is implemented. The message to the team is twofold: I trust you to make good enough (not perfect) decisions and I trust you to make course corrections as needed.

Acknowledge the team’s discomfort
It is normal (and part of being human) to feel anxiety and excitement simultaneously during changes of direction. Knowing that feeling frustrated and anxious is normal won’t stop the pain, but it is enough for most people to help them get through the change.

  • Be there to help them work through the initial angst. When the first set of people emerge “on the other side”, enlist them to help bring others across.
  • Remain firm that the direction is not negotiable (keep in mind if you really blew it, then of course redirect – for now assume your direction is appropriate). Some people may continue to resist, but strangely, knowing that you are committed is reassuring to them.

In the end, How much is too hard to push? If you are moving people out of their comfort zone, then aren’t you making them uncomfortable? And is that bad?

These questions have been buzzing around in my head for years. I’m not sure there is a right answer. More than likely, there isn’t.

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