We are in the midst of a major construction project at work. Having been a part of several such projects, it always amazes me how long it takes for the “groundwork” — the grading, running underground lines, setting foundations — before any real visible progress can take place. I suppose it really shouldn’t be all that surprising, however, given the similarities with “constructing” a change effort within an organization.
Change — like watching a building go up — can be exciting, but also anxiety provoking. The key to successful change is to take the time necessary to do the groundwork on the front end . . . developing the plans, laying conduits for on-going communication, pouring strategic footings to anchor the change for the long term . . . All of these things take significant energy, and on the surface it might appear there is little progress to show for your effort. Trust me, it is worth putting in the time in on the front end, even if it feels like you are moving at a snail’s pace.
A weak foundation can jeopardize an otherwise carefully constructed project. Regardless of how bright and shiny something might look on the surface, if you rushed through the site preparation, the entire project could be compromised. For example, soil testing may seem like a waste of time and money . . . until you realize that it’s not so different from testing the opinions of your staff to see what they are really thinking, and whether the rock solid base you thought you had is still in place. Determining the depth of your water tables is similar to knowing where there are hot button topics that could bubble up, or in worst cases spew forth, to drown out your good intentions.
Plans developed by a single individual sitting in an office may look really pretty on paper, and may be a good starting place, but they virtually always need tweaking to accommodate the unique and unforeseen variables of individual situations. Which brings me to the other key similarity between building and constructing a change effort . . . flexibility! Unexpected cost increases, delayed schedules, key participants aren’t on the same page on a critical component . . . it’s not a matter of if something is going to challenge the plan, it is just a matter of when and how many. Likewise, I have yet to see a change effort that proceeded exactly according to plan — no matter how “perfect” you might have thought the plan was at the outset. What to do? Stand firm on the final outcome, and maybe one or two key variables along the way, and with everything else, realize there are multiple good and reasonable ways to reach your final goal.
Need to implement a change initiative of your own? Grab your hard hat and happy building!