Taking the first steps: getting your change programme started
So often we have a clear idea of what we want to see change in our organisation but we just can’t make that first step. There can be all sorts of reasons for this. Chief among the culprits is just not having the capacity. The day job fills up every hour, you’re constantly fire-fighting or sand-bagging. You can see clearly what changes need to be made but for the life of you can’t see how you will make them.
There are three options at this stage:
Bury your head in the sand, work your behind off to stand still and slowly but steadily start to drive yourself in to the ground;
Just do something, anything, it doesn’t matter what but at least you’ll feel like you’ve made some small effort to make a change. It might not be the right thing and it might not actually change anything but you’ll have done something proactive;
Give yourself a break. Book out two hours in your diary. Take yourself away from the office and work out what the hell needs to happen next and who needs to do what.
It’s not too hard to see which option you should take when it’s laid out like this but number three is the hardest option to follow in practice. It’s not only taking a chunk of time out of the day to day that can be hard but when you are faced with making change even knowing where to begin can feel like a chore in itself. The best way to unlock this is to see the definition phase, the ‘pre-project’ if you like, as a legitimate and essential phase of the work.
I’ve written before about three essential elements of any project, People, Process, Progress. This simple framework can help structure your definition phase and allow you to breakdown what you need to do to get started.
First things first; who are the decision makers for this project? Who do you need to have on board? Work out who they are and get a meeting in the diary with them to kick off the work. Having this deadline with influential people in your organisation who you need on board to back your project will focus your mind like nothing else! Don’t shy away from it. Having a deadline shifts the work on our priority list and is the best remedy for procrastination.
Who do you need to help you deliver this piece of work? No change project can be implemented by one individual. What skills and experience do you need? Who will the change effect? How do those people need to be involved? Do you have the right skills in the organisation now or will you need to bring resource in? What role are you going to take? Do you want to drive the change, lead it, manage it, deliver it? Be clear where you can add the most value and build a team around you.
For both of these groups of people it is essential that you can create a vision of your future desired state. Give yourself time to really build a clear view of this. What problem is your project solving? What will be better once it’s done and who will benefit? Why is this important for your organisation? How does it fit with the overall strategy? Really connect with your creative side to build this picture. Use whatever works best for you: words, pictures, verbal, written, a mind-map, a million post-it notes. See yourself in this future state in as much detail as you can, feel how much better it is, see what has changed. This will help you to build a compelling vision for your project that you can passionately convey to others to get them on board with you on this journey.
An important word of caution here – your next step is to test this vision. The purpose of your first meetings will be to sell this vision but not to defend it to the dying death. You need input, you’re not the only person involved in this change. Present your vision and then open it up for debate. What have you missed? What else could the project achieve? Does your vision match theirs? If not, what is different? The more you can include your key stakeholders in the development of the vision and purpose of your project, the more they will get behind it and deliver what you need them to. The worst thing you can do now is have a ‘my way or the highway’ mindset. Be open, flexible and willing to change. That’s the mindset you want from everyone else after all.
It’s essential to think about progress before your project even starts. There are two key areas you need to be clear on at this point: who do you need to keep up to date; and how will you be kept up to date. This will form the basis of your comms and reporting plans. Once you’ve identified these people (and this may be a shifting picture as you define your project in more detail, that’s fine) speak to them. What do they understand of the project now? What’s important to them? What difference do they want to see? How do they like being kept up to date? You can’t have individual plans for every stakeholder but you should build audience specific plans for this essential area of your project.
The flow of information is what makes the project real to people. Without it you are working in a void and your change simply won’t stick. All that effort and resource will be wasted. So, effort on all aspects of communication from this point is essential for success. Identify a few individuals from each of your essential audiences and commit to meeting with them at regular intervals to give you an ‘eyes and ears’ view of how the project is perceived. This will be more valuable than any report or update from your project team and ensure your end result is as close to your initial, brought into, vision as possible.
Making a start can feel like the biggest barrier to implementing change. Starting with a definition phase gives you the space to build engagement and excitement around your project, stops you feeling alone in your mission, and makes the first step feel like a natural progression of your thinking.
What stops you from making a start? Can you imagine taking a step back before getting started?
If you’ve enjoyed this post please do share it in your network. If you know someone who would benefit from taking this approach send it on to them and, if they need support to make a start, put them in touch with me.