The Plan, the Public
Leadership Thoughts | Issue #97
Progress over perfection! Do you agree? As I contemplate the difficulties of leading significant change, this statement remains in the back of my mind.
Success is only an illusion if individuals and organizations don’t stop looking for the perfect solution and instead concentrate on making progress.
Note: I find myself referencing “significant change” when I talk and write about leading change, so I thought I should explain my interpretation of what it means. Change can be broken down into two categories, technical and adaptive. Many changes are technical. Technical changes are intended to introduce a new or improved way of doing things. For instance, a new software program or daily schedule. Significant changes require a shift in people’s way of thinking, psychological acceptance, and support. Adaptive change necessitates an adjustment in organizational structure, culture, and processes. An example of adaptive change is Mass Customized Learning.
In issue #96 of Leadership Thoughts, I briefly summarized some of my research into leading change and why most significant change initiatives fail. The article focused on two areas mental models and resistance to change. This week’s issue spotlights my thoughts about the plan and the public.
If I were to interview fifty leaders who have initiated a significant change, I am sure they all say they have a plan.
Some say the significant change is part of their strategic plan, someone is in charge of monitoring the plan, and a few might say it is in my head. I know this is true because I’ve been there and done all of the above. I enjoy being the big idea guy, remaining flexible, and letting others handle the details. I’ve learned that significant change requires my active attention to the granular details through developing, implementing, and monitoring the plan.
A well-designed, flexible plan includes a precise and specific pathway to reach the desired outcome. The plan keeps everyone organized and on task, as well as a way to broadcast intentions and collaborate with others. The parts of the plan may differ based on the desired results and the organization's context. Generally, however, they include:
Objective – precisely define what is expected.
Range – what are the limits and barriers?
Resources – what is necessary (time, funds, people, material, etc.)
Timeline – plan out steps and timeline.
Risk – What difficulties and risks can be encountered, and how should they be handled?
Measure of progress – How do you determine progress?
There is one aspect of the plan that is missed by most people – anticipation. Anticipation is seeing every action’s result or possible results related to the change. The ability to anticipate and solve problems before they happen is the mark of outstanding leadership. There are two keys to anticipation, understanding cause and effect, and feedback. First, understand that everything is directly or indirectly related to other things. The second is to get better at receiving and creating feedback loops.
Organizations, people, and ideas don't exist in a vacuum. To illustrate this, the public includes everyone, other entities, and regulations interacting with a leader and their respective organization. Tom Arnett provides a blueprint for this in the form of a "value network.” An example Arnett gives is, "Schools' value networks often include local, state, and federal education agencies and policymakers; learners and their families; employee unions, voters, and taxpayers."
When leading an organizational change, it is critical to have people from the internal and external public supporting the change. Arnett calls this the value network, and John Kotter references a guiding coalition. I refer to this as the network achieved by networking. The leader is responsible for building support and responding to questions about the change and the change process.
An essential element of the public component is communication. Good communication involves conveying the vision, why it is needed, and how to achieve it. One area for improvement when speaking to the public is how this objective can be accomplished. Being successful when connecting with the public means listening to their feedback and opinions and being transparent about the progress of the change.
Communicating effectively with the public will create trust, transparency, and dependability with them. It also serves as a chance to reformulate people's thought processes and showcase the effort toward a meaningful goal.
As I stated in Issue #96, leading a significant change initiative is complex. The reason most significant change initiatives fail is not the goal or the vision but because of the process itself. Considering mental models, people’s reluctance to change, the plan, and the public are all helpful steps to take, but recognizing that progress isn’t linear and can bring about the unexpected is normal. My advice is to focus on progress, not perfection!
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