Construction Projects

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!

Stop, Drop and Roll


I don’t know if they still teach kids this, but when I was in grade school we were taught if you are ever on fire, don’t run . . . stop, drop and roll.

Hmmm. That advice might be just as applicable in a Leadership 101 course. You don’t have to be in a leadership position all that long to realize that sooner or later (or maybe both) it’s going to feel like your world is on fire . . . your contracts have been slashed, there’s a crisis in your agency, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place . . . and everyone is looking to you to find the soft place to land.

While it might seem like a natural reaction to scurry from point to point looking for something to douse the flames, in most cases your frantic actions will only serve to feed the blaze. When you hyperventilate, so will everyone else in your agency, right?!? What to do? The same thing they told you when you were 10 . . . stop, drop and roll.

When you are faced with a situation that (at least feels like) could lead to your organization’s demise, Stop. Breathe. Think. Don’t just blindly run from here to yonder looking for solutions. You need to keep your wits about you . . . so stop. And then drop.

Drop down and focus on the ground level, the foundation, of your organization — your vision, mission, values and operating principles. This is the solid place where you can take a deep breath and draw strength. The air may have been thin and your legs shaky when you were trying to dash around through the smoke and flames of the crisis. When you drop down to the solid ground that has supported your organization through thick and thin, you can better see the big picture view and keep the crisis du jour in context. And once you have that perspective, it is time to roll.

As the leader, you have to look past the fire before you and roll in the direction that provides the best opportunity to extend your mission reach. Do you sometimes have to roll through the flames to get there? Yep. Will there be those who will tell you that you are headed in the wrong direction? Most likely. Keep your eyes on the prize, and roll!

If you want to be a leader, you will have fires to deal with on a fairly regular basis; and even the best leaders get scorched from time to time. The difference between getting a slight scorch and an irreparable burn? You’ve heard it for years . . . Stop, Drop and Roll.