Getting Over It
By Beth Austin
With the new year comes new possibilities, new opportunities, and, of course, a slew of New Year's resolutions on which we will make varying degrees of progress throughout the year. People are generally used to making (and breaking) personal New Year's resolutions, but for business leaders, the list should also include goals for their organizations. One's personal and professional goals are often inter-related - and the process for successfully achieving the milestones is similar for both.
I was reminded of this once again last weekend in the midst of my efforts to make a change in my personal life. It's an important change that is long overdue and I just need to get over it already. I reflected a bit on why my particular issue had been going on so long and I realized that without conscious effort, our approach to addressing either personal or business challenges is often ineffectual. As a critical thinker who favors processes, I almost immediately got a visual in my head that looked something like this:
Cycle of a Failed New Year's Resolution
Since I'm blogging this right now, I can't gauge the reaction, but I imagine that if I shared this in a public forum it would be met with some sheepish looks and nervous laughter - along with chorus strenuous denials (see Step 1 above). So, how can this process improve?
Although one should always iterate, measure, and improve once a new process or behavior is put in place, it is important that the approach to achieving success be a linear model instead of a never-ending loop. In a work setting, your resolutions or objectives might be to implement LEAN businesses processes, execute an organizational change, or address a personnel issue (with the latter being very ripe to fall in the cycle of failure shown above). A linear model, with success measurement, might look something like this:
- 1. Identify the problem - and the solution. This step involves articulating the issue and the negative outcomes it currently creates. It also includes clearly describing what a positive outcome would look like and your initial thoughts on the process you will use to achieve it.
- 2. Engage stakeholders, influencers, and subject matter experts. Rather than whining to a friend or dropping vaguely hostile and completely un-actionable comments in a staff meeting, develop a list of individuals that you feel could provide knowledge or help in implementing your solution. This list could include a wide range of people such as department leads, human resource professionals, or a professional colleague who has successfully dealt with a similar issue. These individuals will serve as test audience for your planned approach and allow you to make necessary modifications.
- 3. Accept ownership. This is a critical part of the process in which you discuss the problem with others and communicate the role you intend to play in correcting it. For most work-place resolutions, you will need to enlist the help of others on your team to successfully overcome the inherent challenges and achieve the objectives, but it is important to make it clear that you are accepting ownership for this change - and that you expect others too as well.
- 4. Change something else. This one may seem a little off-track at first, but depending on the complexity of the problem, it is sometimes good to take a short period of time to reflect on the conversations you've had and allow the process to crystallize a bit more. During this brief period of time you will still be actively making other positive changes - ideally ones that will facilitate the resolution of your overall problem. This "practice run" can be beneficial for a number of reasons. Not only can it potentially help you troubleshoot possible obstacles to achieving your main objective but successfully making a positive change of most any kind will build confidence. Small wins can make a big difference.
- 5. Solve the probelm and measure results. You've had the opportunity to refine your plan even further in step 4, which will increase your chances of success. Unfortunately, you know the saying about "best laid plans." To ensure a process is working you will need to track and measure results, collecting both qualitative and quantitative data if possible. The input will allow you to make the necessary course corrections to achieve - and sustain - the outcome you outlined in step 1.
Hopefully, if you haven't already made your New Year resolutions, you were able to think of aspects at your organization that you wish to improve as you read this post. Making a change is never easy, but a thoughtful process can help. And remember... there's 11 more months until next year, so you don't have to do everything tomorrow.