In several recent blogs, I have written about the need to understand what ‘done’ means and to avoid unnecessary rework. Many businesses these days undertake projects to enact changes in the organization. These projects typically involve intangible concepts, rather than observable improvements, and many of these concepts are not well understood during the early project days. As a result, there is the need to ‘vet’ ideas or ‘socialize’ recommendations. Decisions need to be made on some questions before next steps can be considered. This blog outlines some unique challenges when directing change projects and offers five tips.
Take, for example, a project to transition a non-profit into a for-profit company. Considerations about how to structure the management team will drive decisions on job position descriptions. You won’t be able to write any salary policies until you have consensus on a compensation philosophy. How will the company’s mission or vision change? There will simply be points in the project where questions, often on vague ideas that are not well understood, need to be answered.
There are several problems here:
- Gathering sufficient data on the different choices in order to make sound decisions requires time and money.
- The client (or your management team) can unknowingly stop progress dead in its tracks if they can’t or don’t make prompt decisions.
- Once the decision makers have been briefed and decisions have been made, there can be the need to quickly communicate the decision to others in the organization so that the project team can move forward.
- Change is a process and it can feel uncomfortable when proposed changes are floated around and people don’t quite understand what is going to happen to their job.
So what can teams do to help? Here are five tips:
Recognize that questions will arise throughout your project.
I have written before on the need to break a project down into the discrete and essential activities that are needed to accomplish the project scope. Each of these activities will have some deliverable(s) and the challenge is to identify what ‘done’ looks like. It’s much easier when the activity is concrete and observable.
When an organization is undergoing significant change, there can be some ambiguity in these activities. The company’s mission, compensation philosophy, organizational structure, and policies may be evolving. There can be a lot of questions and decision points that will emerge over the course of your project. Develop a process for identifying decision points, questions, and lessons learned at the completion of each activity.
Understand the value of socializing your idea early and often.
Socializing an idea is a term that describes an informal attempt to make your colleagues, client, or management team aware of an idea and to get feedback. It is important to vet ideas and recommendations with the client at interim stages before you spend gobs of money on ideas that may not fly.
Usually, it makes more sense for deliverables to be finished products, rather than drafts, but that doesn’t mean that the client won’t be reviewing drafts. It simply means that everyone understands what the final deliverable is.
Sometimes a well-run meeting with a presentation and discussion is a good way to start socializing an idea. Since groupthink can undercut sound decision-making, allow your client sufficient time to sit down and read and review actual documents and provide feedback.
Balance the need for client adjustment time against the need to move on.
As you complete activities, some will need more “socializing” with executives than others. Some will seem like they are in a perpetually evolutionary state for months. At some point, you will need to declare victory on an activity and move on. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of completion.
Realize that language matters
I sometimes hear people present ideas in a way that is designed to convey a recommended approach, rather than a neutral idea, about which one wants feedback. There may be times when that approach makes sense, but it should be a conscious decision. Understand whether you have been asked to provide a recommendation(s) on a key question, help your client make a decision on the question, or help your client develop consensus in the organization on the question.
Understand stakeholder perspectives.
Know who the key stakeholders are and what their perspectives are. Have you identified and documented any hot-button issues? Are there stakeholders who will be your cheerleaders? Engage them. Do you know what methods of communication work best for each one? One of the biggest causes of project failure is poor stakeholder management. That starts with identifying and knowing your stakeholders.
If you need help directing change projects, give me a call.