Tag Archives: Implementation

One small step – from good idea to effective action

You’ve a burning idea to improve your business, you would like to move it forward but it’s still a bit fuzzy. You are not sure how to get going or even how to describe it to others. Perhaps that’s stopping you from doing anything but it is critical that you take that first step as the classic quote says.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Here’s a suggestion on how to get things moving in a positive direction.

Rudyard Kipling’s famous quotation is a great way to start structuring your ideas.

“I keep six honest serving men: They taught me all I knew:

Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who”

At early stages you should concentrate on:

What you are trying to achieve

How things will be different

Why it is a good idea

Who you ought to involve

The most important issues are to put some structure on your idea, test its validity and generate some support – if you don’t it won’t go any further.

You can focus on the details of what precisely you are going to do and how you are going to do it later. You will probably find that the people you engage with will have different and better ideas about the details – you can’t plan the journey until you know where you are going!  They are also likely to have some good suggestions of other people to get on board.

Critical Stage

Many projects and change initiatives go wrong at this stage because the participants end up doing the wrong project [and sometimes they all end up doing different projects!], so it is vital that you explore the issues and potentials fully at an early stage. This should be an expansive stage, gathering ideas from everyone who has an angle, don’t discount anything at this stage [you can’t generate ideas and evaluate them at the same time], even the seemingly crazy ideas may lead to something really useful.

Value Differences

Surround yourself with different types of people, if they all see things in the same way and bring the same skills, knowledge and experience to the table, you are very unlikely to get any radical ideas. You need to encourage everyone to speak their mind, table their ideas and explain their understanding.

Faciliate the process

To get effective dialogue you will need someone to facilitate the process, so you need to either develop the skills or preferably bring in someone who is skilled, experienced and independent.

If you don’t get into effective dialogue at this stage, then you will find out later than what you deliver is different to what someone was expecting – even if it is possible to put it right later, it will cost a lot more.

See my earlier blog post That’s not what I thought I was getting! for more details.

Key Issues

So at this stage, three things are important:

  1. That everyone is agreed on the destination
  2. That everyone is happy that they’ve had their say
  3. That you take the first step.

Focus on

Focus your attention on three types of reaction to proposals:

  1. One group or individual is keen to have a particular feature and others don’t see the value of.
  2. Ideas which are dismissed without any effective debate
  3. Ideas which are accepted without any effective debate

The first may well mean that there is a lack of shared understanding between the groups / individuals and the others may indicate that whilst everyone is using the same words, they actually mean different things. You need to facilitate the debate and make sure that the aims and objectives of the proposal are understood by all.

If you don’t do this now, you’ll regret it later!

Turning good ideas into effective action

Background

I’ve worked in capital projects for over 30 years. In that time, I’ve seen many examples of great ideas which ought to have been put in to action and lots of really bad ideas which have had money thrown at them. A few years ago, I co-authored a paper for the Irish Academy of Management which looked at how internal systems, policies and procedures had limited the ability of a couple of companies who were trying to enter a growing market sector and enabled another [with arguably fewer resources] to do so effectively.

I was also mindful of an interview I’d heard Michael Porter give around the time that he produced a report for the Government on UK Competitiveness. He suggested that the strategies developed by UK companies were at least as good as those dreamed up by our competitors but that our top management teams were much less able to communicate the intentions, rationale and requirements of those strategies to their middle managers.

Approach

This got me thinking and I produced a Mind Map based on the McKinsey 7S model to structure all of the issues which I thought might have a bearing on the issue.

Mind Map

Strategy Implementation Mind Map

It’s clearly a complex issue which would need a lot of research to sort out but I thought it would be worth my while doing a little digging around and I wanted to test out the LinkedIn Polls feature which someone had recommended.  So I started a poll.

In retrospect, I ought to have thought about it a bit more before diving in but…

I learned quite quickly that the structure of the poll places some significant limitations on what you can ask and how participants can respond but here is what I asked:

What is the main reason stopping businesses from implementing the good ideas they come up with?

The five options I listed were:

  1. Finance
  2. Company systems, policies and processes
  3. Organisational Culture
  4. Skills
  5. Risk Aversion / Self-Confidence

I realised that I had failed to make it clear that I was talking about ideas which were generally held to be beneficial for the business and that the final option was intended to refer to the individuals concerned rather than the businesses. You live and learn!

The poll was open to three distinct groups of people on the LinkedIn Network:

  1. My personal contacts ~ 500 at the time
  2. The Alumni of the Open University MBA programme
  3. Members of the Institute of Directors

Results

The graphic below summarises the results of the poll which drew about 350 votes and around 100 comments across the three groups.

LinkedIn Poll results

LinkedIn Poll results

Observations

I had expected that in the in current economic climate, most of the votes would be for Finance – what was surprising was that most respondents felt that cultural and organisational issues were the most predominant cause of good ideas falling by the wayside. Many commentators suggested that Company policies, systems and procedures and to some extent Risk Aversion / Self-Confidence were attributes of Culture too. Several also thoguth that Structure was a relevant issue [harking back to the 7S model].

This seems reasonable  and is worthy of investigation in a more structured research programme.

It was notable that there were comparatively few votes for Skills – what was interesting was that quite a few commentators mentioned that Communication ought to have been added to the list of options. I had in my mind at the outset that communication skills were likely to be a significant contributor [and this had been alluded to by Michael Porter]. So perhaps it was my communication skills which led to the low vote!

The comments on the poll provided some very useful insights into the issue and if you would like to see all of the comments, please drop me a request by email to jim@fulcrum-management.co.uk.

What it means for you!

It seems likely that in most businesses, there are cultural and systems barriers which get in the way of good ideas being raised by the workforce and finding their way to the top of the organisation. Similarly, there are barriers which stop the good ideas and strategies of the top team from permeating down to the workforce / implementors in a way which motivates them to take effective action. If you want to move your business forward, you will need to address both sets of barriers.

It also seems that when Finance is put forward as a reason for not taking action, it may well be just an excuse! The real issue may well be that it is just too difficult to get things done round here!

On a brighter note, it seems that where there’s a will, there’s a way – where there is a consensus for action a budget will be found!

Please let me know what you think.