Something To Ponder: What if it all went to $#it…
“The huge change initiative we’ve been working on – well it’s all gone to shit”
How would they react?
Surprised? Shocked? Upset? – Or would there be knowing nods across the room?
What if you then asked them:
“Can anyone tell me what went wrong?”
You’d first likely get stunned faces as people try to figure out how they are supposed to know what killed this thing you’ve all been working on – but then guesses would come.
“It was the lack of direction?” someone suggests.
“…Well the requirements just kept changing!” – someone else throws in.
“Our funding was stripped away because we weren’t showing enough progress?” – another guess.
You just nod vaguely, then ask them all:
“…ok, what should we do now?”
And there’s a moment where no one speaks… as 6 months of planning is thrown down the tube. In the deafening silence, you can hear their cogs turning as they recalculate the next course of action. They all come to the realisation that there was no real Plan B here. Plenty of ways to mitigate potential risks to the project, but no real plan if the project failed…
After a few moments, you put them out of their misery by explaining that this was just a thought exercise. The initiative hasn’t failed, but that you were instead running a change initiative ‘premortem’.
The idea of the premortem has been around for a while, but it has been watered down to the point where it no longer differs from any ol’ generic risk workshop – filled with meaningless callouts like “Communication is key” (For an example of what I’m talking about – see below lifted straight from Atlassian’s website…)
An effective premortem is designed to expose two things:
- What are the likely causes of project failure, and
- What is our fallback position if it does fail.
And it takes genuine boldness to do. You don’t have to do this by deceiving your team as above, but you do need to encourage real honesty – as that’s where the value is found.
What would cause your project to fail tomorrow? – and what would you do if it did?
Here’s A Wild Idea: Say What’s Really Happening
I’ve been listening to Ian Whitworth’s no-BS business book ‘Undisruptable’ lately. It’s quite basic, but his dry sense of humour is brilliant. In it, he has a short chapter on building a company brand. His position: if your staff don’t want to say your brand slogan out loud, then you’re already doomed.
“we’re passionate in engaging the workplaces of tomorrow”, or
“we help you release efficiencies through synergy”.
That kind of corporate BS is just not how people speak. And so the message doesn’t get repeated, transferred or conveyed any further than the town hall script it’s read from.
The problem is – it’s not just company brands that suffer from this. When it comes to change buy-in – if your team can’t or won’t explain why things are changing in a coherent, understandable sentence – then no one else will know either.
And if no-one knows why things are changing – then making the change happen is a million times harder.
So here’s the wild idea:
When it comes to your project’s WHY – Speak boldly, directly and without corporate BS.
It goes so much further.
It’s sad how controversial this position is…
(Pro-tip – if you can’t describe why change is needed in a sentence or two, then you’re already on shaky ground and heading for disaster…)