Organizational change and leaky basements

About 13 years ago our family made the decision to move back to the Springfield area, my husband's hometown. We bought a 1974-fixer-upper on Lake Petersburg. We knew when we bought it that it hadn't been updated in years, but it had good bones and we could see a vision for its potential – flowing open space, embracing the best of the mid-century vibes in a modern esthetic, with sweeping views of the water.

We imagined our open basement as a playroom where our two boys would play, watch movies and eventually hang out with friends in their teen years, perhaps leaving a little extra space for a home fitness area. But unfortunately, home renovation isn't all paint colors and throw pillows. After living in this home only four short months, the basement flooded. Not just a small flood, but several inches of water that ruined the carpet and some of the electrical.

We quickly realized that we could not fulfill our big vision until we fixed the underlying issues.

The same is true in our businesses. We often have underlying issues that keep us from reaching our goals. At a recent conference I attended, it was suggested that one in 10 change initiatives fail completely, three of 10 succeed and six of 10 reach some degree of success but never realize their full potential.

What are the underlying issues that prevent us from reaching our business goals? There are various reasons.

Sometimes the solution is alignment. Is your leadership team aligned and headed in the same direction? Often issues with misalignment are based in one of three areas:

Lack of communication about direction: Just because you said it doesn't mean the message was received. A book I read early in my career as a training specialist titled, Telling Ain't Training, dealt with that exact notion – just because you explained something or taught a concept does not mean that the message was received accurately and fully understood. Take time to communicate through various means or methods that support your dialogue to better help people process information. As leaders, it's nearly impossible to over-communicate your strategy, vision and direction. If you think you've communicated it effectively, do so again and ask for feedback to make sure your audience received the message you intended to relay. Adjust your message if necessary, and then engage your team in dialogue and involve them in direction-setting to ensure the message sticks.

Misunderstanding of direction: Related to the above, half of communication is in the receiver, not the teller. Clarifying questions, participation in goal-setting and clear measures of success will help leaders ensure that everyone on the team is marching toward the same vision.

Disagreement on direction: Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, not everyone on your team will agree with the direction your organization is headed. While productive dialogue and healthy conflict can help to uncover blind spots, once a decision is made, it's time to forge ahead. Anyone actively working against the strategy needs to either speak up, get on board or exit at the next stop.

Another underlying issue in organizations can be the lack of an overall people strategy.

Do you have the right people in the right roles? If your vision requires more innovation or organizational change, but you don't have change agents on your team, you might need to bring in fresh talent. If you're trying to increase operational excellence with people who have low needs for structure, detail and precision, you might have the wrong people in the wrong seats. Like a game of chess, knowing each person's strengths can help you assign them to the right strategic projects and initiatives.

Do you understand how to best manage each person? Even at the highest level of an organization, leaders differ in their needs for autonomy, structure, support and pace. It's important when implementing change to understand and embrace the what, why, when and how behind each decision.

Take the time to communicate (and over-communicate) your vision, ensure clarity on the direction and get your team marching in unison. Eliminating these roadblocks early and fixing problems at their source will help you increase your chances of success.

Just as we can't decorate a leaky basement, sometimes we have to fix the foundation before we can move forward to successfully implementing our bigger strategic initiatives.

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