Strategic steps could bring out best in an organization
By Tom Berliner For The Courier-News September 3, 2012 3:42PM
Updated: October 5, 2012 6:05AM
Jim Collins, in his book “Good to Great,” writes about flywheels, devices used to provide uninterrupted energy in systems where the energy source can be intermittent.
The metaphor is a good one. He is emphasizing how difficult it is to get a meaningful strategic initiative off the ground and how much easier it is to manage after it has started. Among other things, he suggests that companies invest appropriate resources to launch important initiatives.
One thing that is often overlooked is how difficult it is to stop a flywheel once it has gotten going. A strong case can be made for the belief that it is even more challenging to stop it than start it.
If it takes a lot of muscle (resources) to get something launched and at least the same amount of muscle to get it stopped, what is the message for leaders?
The message is straightforward: Look before you leap. Don’t choose to utilize resources that you are not certain will be effectively invested. At the doer level, too many initiatives are called Flavor of the Month. In this kind of culture, worker bees — white and blue collar alike — hear about a new initiative, snicker and make two assumptions about it. One, it will soon be ignored, winding up on Initiatives Boot Hill, joining many other well-intentioned plans. Two, a supposedly whiz-bang initiative will soon be coming down the pike. Once such a dysfunctional change culture is established, returning it to health becomes very difficult.
What do you do to make your environment different, either to avoid falling into this hole in the first place or, if you are already there, to get back out of it? The answer: Four primary things. By the way, implementing one or two will not lead you to a healthier place. You need to do them all.
1. Make both the “what” and the “why” of the initiative you are introducing very clear to everyone, yourself included. Where feasible, include representation from as many units as possible to help create and/or communicate the initiative. Be certain that everyone understands the big picture as well as his/her individual and team-member role. People won’t row the boat for very long if they have no idea of the destination or the time that they are being required to do it.
2. Invest sufficient time and focus when assessing, then assigning resources — people included. (Perhaps it should be “especially when it comes to human resources.”) Tools you can use include a cost/benefit analysis or a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). A gap analysis will help you determine what additional resources you need to accomplish your objectives.
3. You must, must, must know who all the stakeholders are: decision-makers, sponsors, employees, detractors, beneficiaries, suppliers and all others who will either touch or be touched by this initiative. Then, for those whose influence means more than others, you need a game plan for moving them toward benefactor status.
4. The devil is in the details (author unknown) and that’s when some organizations/teams fail to put their best foot forward. You need to identify milestones, use a methodology to determine when and how they can best be achieved, and effectively project manage the entire process.
When you look at it on paper, it sounds pretty easy: Decide where you want to go, determine if you have the resources to get there, and then head off in that direction.
But you and I know that it’s never that easy, particularly when it involves more than one person, much less an entire organization.
When the complexity escalates, so does the necessity to do all those things with even greater commitment and attention to detail.
If there is anything that I can do to support or encourage you, I would be delighted to assist in your success. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 847-628-1520.
Tom Berliner is dean of the School of Leadership and Business at Judson University in Elgin.