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What’s in the Way of Implementation

Sacred cows — they are everywhere.

It’s the tried-and-true gala fundraiser that a charity has been throwing for years. The government program that remains popular despite partisanship on both sides of the aisle. The unassailable leader no one questions or challenges. The assumed rules, the dogmatic systems, and ways of working that are considered off-limits. “We’ve always done it this way.”  

These sacred cows can keep us from unlocking our company’s, teams’ and people’s true potential, unleashing the power of change and innovation, and block the road for implementation. 

What’s Getting In Your Way? 

What are your barriers to effective implementation? There are as many answers as there are companies and leaders!  But there are usually only a few reasons implementation gets stuck.

  • You Don’t Know the Why. Innovation is the lifeblood of any organization… But change for change’s sake alone can be a costly and devastating prospect. If you do not have a great depth of understanding around the initial purpose — the why — efforts to implement can stall or are even counterproductive. There might be a good “why”, but you need to know it and believe it and so do your people — a clear, shared purpose.

  • You Know — But You Don’t Delve Into the How, How Much, When, Where, or Who. So you know the why. Great. But you also need intensive front-end consideration of the implications of any plan so you can make solid decisions.

This is also a critical piece because if you don’t have answers to all the whys, whats, hows, whens, wheres, and whos, you cannot communicate with clarity, move forward in alignment, and collaborate with impact. And you will miss out on how it impacts your people. You won’t get anywhere without a well-thought-through and well-understood plan.

  • You Lack Resources. You may not have capacity when it comes to technology, finances, time, human capital. Ok. It happens. Can you surmount these barriers? Do you need to first focus on shoring up your foundation?

These are problems. Let’s talk solutions.

Implementing Change Without Changing What Matters Most 

Start at the beginning — with your culture. Prioritize building a healthy organization and team culture as a springboard from which to launch initiatives. Part of this, of course, is to empower your people. 

Take the time to get real and transparent input from your team. They can't participate meaningfully, nor can you benefit, if they do not have the foundation of trust and safety. Remember that perception is reality. In order to get buy-in and commitment, people need to feel the desire for it. Simply telling them “it’s time for a change now” doesn’t work. 

Instead, talk about what change will look like and how it will impact the organization, individuals, work flows, processes and procedures, and end users. Actively listen to what your team is saying when it comes to what actually works and what does not. What is really important and what is not. 

Ask openly for their creative ideas and thoughts, without giving the impression that you expect them to build on tradition. One person who can move the sacred cow out of the way is you; not by forcing it, but by implementing change in a way that prioritizes people over the past. 

Change That Is Safe, Actionable, and Attainable 

While implementation can be highly complex, managing it can be streamlined into five basics:

  1. Consider the implications so you can see the big picture. Visualize the strategic steps necessary to take you from where you are now to where you want to be. 
  2. Build your capacity. What do you need in order to reach your goal? Strengthen your foundations intellectually, emotionally, practically, and, of course, financially. 
  3. Get the team actively involved. Again, you cannot declare change — at least not healthy, sustainable change. Communication, feedback, and listening are key. 
  4. Involve your customer/client. This is a tremendous way to build deeper relationships both internally and externally. 
  5. Be open to shifts and opportunities throughout the process that will enhance innovation and success. 

Too Much? Too New? Too Soon? 

Is there such a thing as too much change? Too much new implementation? 

Yes, change and innovation are hallmarks of successful organizations. The pandemic has proven how important the ability to pivot is in today’s business climate. Many businesses shuttered because they tried to navigate unprecedented times with the old status quo.

Innovation has become a highly desirable aspect of organizational growth — for good reason. Higher profits, bigger market share, enhanced reputations… And while the ability to change is essential, there are other considerations. If the structure isn’t solid (e.g. insufficient resources to execute, undeveloped support plan, uncommitted team, lack of customer/team buy-in, etc.), implementation will fail, and change will be stalled.

Too much change gets complicated and can also cause internal and external stakeholders to become overwhelmed and supersaturated. From there, it can implode.

The Art and Science of Implementation 

It’s overdone, a cliche, sure… But innovation is a journey, not a destination. 

The science part of implementation is about business models, scale, structures and processes, skills, and resources. The art comes in the culture growth, the depth of relationships built, and the give-and-take of ideas and refinements. It is how you move from This is the way we’ve always done it to This is what we could build together. 

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