So often when I work with CEOs and their leadership teams, they tell me: this is not a new idea, we just need to make it stick this time.
Why is it so hard to get organizations to do anything new?
Comfort with conflict
The crux of the issue is the willingness to deal with conflict. Any time you do something new, if you are clear about it, you are going to raise disagreements about how to do, fund, measure, and communicate about the new thing.
As a leader, you need to get comfortable with the fact that creating real clarity is going to raise conflict. It's going to expose disagreements and gaps.
Being "fuzzy" about the details and expectations may be more comfortable in the moment, but the false niceness it creates prevents forward progress because no one can see clearly what to do!
If you fail to create clarity:
- Nothing changes. Everyone just keeps doing what they are currently doing, and they keep talking about—but not actually doing—the new stuff.
- People go back to whatever they were doing before, because they clearly know what that is.
- Then, when the outcome doesn't happen, you can't put your finger on what isn't working, because you never clearly defined exactly what "working" looks like.
- If people are not performing you can't hold them accountable because you haven't defined the expectations clearly enough to show the gap.
Clarity enables progress. Any successful business agenda or initiative needs a tremendous amount of clarity to succeed.
To better create clarity, follow these steps:
1. First, get really clear about the desired outcome. Define what is expected. This seems simple, but I see many teams skip this step of defining the desired outcome and instead argue endlessly about what to do next. Define the desired outcome first.
2. Break that larger, long-term goal down clearly into smaller, concrete, time-staged parts.
3. Then you need to be really clear about:
- Who is responsible for each piece
- How each piece will be resourced
- How doing something different in each case will impact the old way of doing something
- How the roles of specific people will change
- Not only what the new tasks and deliverables are, but what are the new behaviors and values that are expected—at every level in the organization.
- How the success of each role will be measured
- What the consequences are for not doing the new thing
- What will be communicated at the start of, and throughout the project
Here are some examples of how this plays out:
Desired outcome: The quality of our products must improve.
That may sound like a clear statement, but it's not. Getting real clarity would also answer:
- All the products at once? Or only some of the products? Which ones? How will we decide the priority?
- Will we hire new people for testing or move people off other projects?
- Will we include customer testing earlier in the process?
- Will we change how we use customers in the quality process?
- Will we measure the performance of the product developers differently? How so?
- Will we re-rate the priority of all the bugs in the system? Or just some of them? Under what criteria?
- Will we stick to our quality plan when the sales force is clamoring for new features? Who gets to make these decisions?
Another example: Desired Outcome: We need to sell more strategically, higher up, into customer organizations.
So many companies have this goal. But few act on it successfully. It needs more clarity:
- Does that mean that you expect every rep to spend some time on strategic deal making? How much time? Doing what, exactly?
- Or does that mean that you will split the team into tactical and strategic teams?
- How will you engage customers differently? Who will define that?
- Are sales people trained to sell differently? Who will be trained? To do what? When?
- How will you measure if it is happening? What will you do it if isn't?
- Will you change the comp plans of the sales team?
- Will you create new, different product/solution offers to appeal at a higher level? How will you define the new offers?
- Who will create these? How will you fund their development?
Discussing the answer to all these kinds of questions out loud, with your team, opens the door to conflict because once you get really clear, people will not agree.
But that's the important part.
The conflict means you are doing it right
As Winston Churchill once said, "If you are going through hell, keep going!"
As I bring teams through this process of getting real clarity, taking the time to hear the opinions and work through the necessary conflict and debate, everything gets better.
It becomes clear what everyone needs to do personally to achieve the big goal. Everyone leaves knowing exactly what is expected, and how they will be measured on what they do moving forward.
Don't settle for shallow team pleasantness, or avoid performance management at the expense of getting your business strategy implemented.
Part of your job as a leader is to create real clarity and navigate through the productive conflict it causes—otherwise you will keep talking about your big plans but never actually do them.
[Image: Flickr user BellaLago]