7 Steps for Avoiding Initiative Gridlock
Tom Spencer Download PDF
What looks good on paper doesn’t always translate to real life. All too often annual strategic planning processes at the corporate and department level establish objectives without adequately considering the time, effort, and focus required to implement them. More times than not, this creates gridlock at the frontline as supervisors and the workforce attempt to juggle competing priorities while staying on top of their core work (i.e., the work that produces short- and long-term revenue and/or customer delight).
While each planned initiative might appear well worth the time and effort in isolation from everything else that’s going on, there’s a practical limitation to how many priorities can be juggled. The leaders making these higher level decisions typically are not impacted as heavily as those further down the organization. It’s also common for leaders to be caught up in their own cycle of “busyness,” thinking that more is always better. When asked to do too much, frontline supervisors will prioritize the tasks with the greatest short-term consequences (positive consequences for doing them or negative consequences for not doing them). They often end up ignoring whatever tasks will get them in the least amount of immediate trouble if left undone. However, these decisions might not be in the best long-term interest of the company.
- Bring the initiative owners together face-to-face and establish a common understanding of the what, why, when, and how of their planned initiatives.
- Highlight any redundancy with existing initiatives or other planned initiatives and consolidate when and where possible. Identify process and outcome success measures for each initiative. Eliminate or at least postpone initiatives that have no easily measurable benefit.
- Create a matrix that specifies the behavior required at each level of the organization for each initiative (e.g., a column for each initiative and rows for each level in the organization, with specific behaviors filling the cells). Evaluate the behavior required and determine the extent to which the separate initiatives will drive competing behaviors. Eliminate any potential conflicts.
- Discuss the difficulty (time, effort, and any other naturally occurring, negative consequences for those required to perform the new behaviors) and potential impact (positive and negative) of the planned initiatives on the core work and other initiatives.
- Sequence the launch of each initiative based on its expected benefit, the need to coordinate with external events or other planned activities, and resource capacity.
- Plan frequent feedback and positive reinforcement to shape and motivate the new behavior required. Whenever possible, reduce the negative consequences that might be associated with the behavior (e.g., provide clear direction to avoid rework and the necessary resources for efficient performance).
- Monitor the impact of the requirements on supervisors and the frontline to ensure that the work environment is supporting the desired behavior without having a negative impact on the core work or the culture.
Published May 9, 2014
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