We are so often caught up in the reactive, and it is an inevitable part of life and business. There is too much data to be able to anticipate all of it coming at us. So how do we make a transition from reactive to preemptive?
Know the Destination
You can’t go somewhere unless you know where you are going. Simple, I know. But do you jump in your car to go somewhere without having a destination in mind? Probably not. So what does your professional destination look like?
Taking time to plan an endgame is necessary for a huge transition. You need to be able to define success not only for you as a leader, but for the team as well so that there is a sense of momentum and, ultimately, accomplishment.
Set up Your Waypoints
Every flight plan has waypoints, intermediate destinations that help to set the overall course. Your journey from Reactive to Proactive should have waypoints as well. In Project Management they are called Milestones.
The purpose of the waypoint is to provide you with a series of connected destinations that help to ensure a safe path is set and that you are moving in the right direction. You can choose your waypoints to be in units of time, percent completion, accomplishment of specific events, or even arrival of the destination for only a part of the entire vision (completing the journey for one product line before expanding to another).
Understand Your Compromises
It’s difficult to get everything you want. By knowing where you need to compromise you allow yourself a safety that will prevent you and your team from being discouraged. Know where you can balk and where you mustn’t in order to help ensure success. Some areas cannot be compromised, define them. Others can be sacrificial should circumstances require it, be ready to sacrifice.
Communicate Your Destination
Give others the vision you have. Allow your team and your supporters to envision the destination with you. Take every moment you have to describe your destination in detail. Outline how it looks and give them the ability to see it with you. This will make others hungry to help you succeed.
If I told you we were going on a road trip your first question would be, “Where to?” If I simply said, “West,” that wouldn’t be very motivating. If I said, “The beach,” that might be more motivating. But if I took the time to describe the beach, how it looked at sunset, the warm breeze that blew on my face, the sound of the waves crashing on the nearby cliffs, and the long boardwalk the stretched over the water, you might be more excited about going there.
Invest in the Change
Change is a movement of inertia. The organization has momentum in its current direction. If you want to change that direction, you have to be willing to invest in the force required to overcome that inertia. This investment may come in the form of additional people, a new technology, external support, rebranding and marketing, or a number of other things that will give you the force needed to change your momentum.
Celebrate the Change
I am a big fan of celebrations. They can come in small forms of encouragement or lavish company parties. The purpose is to keep people motivated. Once you have gained a little momentum in the new direction you have to keep pushing. Celebrations as simple as a pat on the back can help to accelerate your change.
If you are in the midst of a change, look at your flight plan. Do you know the destination? Do you have your waypoints? Do you know where you may have to make compromises? Have you visualized your destination and shared that with others? Have you made the proper investments?
If not, take the time to figure it out.
Do you see a need for moving from reactive to proactive in your business, in your life? Start today with planning on how to get to your destination.
I live in the Chicago area, which means that along with corrupt politicians I am plagued with cold winters, hot summers, and not much time in between. For those of you that have been keeping up with the national weather this winter you have noticed that the entire United States has been through quite a bit of a cold snap. Chicago had to deal with actual temperatures of -20 degrees Fahrenheit (I didn’t make a mistake, that is a negative sign). It the summer we will undoubtedly have a week of highs that will reach, if not breach, triple digits. That is a 120 degree swing!
We can cope with these changes because they are gradual. Yesterday was 50 degrees and it felt like a wonderful summer day to me. Everything is relative. If you peppered 100-degree days in with -20-degree days it would be miserable (not that they aren’t by themselves). However, the gradual changes makes for a more tolerable extreme.
The caution I am giving here is the analogy of the frog in the pot of boiling water: put a frog in boiling water and he will jump out, but put him in warm water and slowly boil it and he will stay in and not notice the difference.
If you are in a working environment where the pot has slowly started to boil, how can you tell? Have you ever worked with the people that say “we have always done it like that”? Those are the folks that started in cool water and have reached a boil and don’t know it. Extremes can sneak up on us if the change is slow. And these extremes aren’t limited to processes or equipment, they can be related to culture and working relationships as well.
So how can you make sure you are not in hot water?
- Benchmarking. If you can, benchmark your industry and see where you sit. Don’t give yourself excuses either, if you are at the bottom, so be it. Get better.
- Long-term trending. See if you can get trends from the last decade. Don’t look at the last few years as they may be too small of a sample size (Have you seen the stock market daily chart versus the 3-year? One is not necessarily and indicator of the other.)
- New-hire assessments. Use your new people as thermometers to gauge your water temperature. Have them write honest one-month, three-month and six-month essays about your organization. Make them anonymous so that they can be completely truthful. They are the frogs that just entered the pot. They can tell you if the water is too hot.
- The Right KPIs. Make sure they are the right KPIs (read here). It is not always easy to tell if you have the right one, but looking at these trends versus your standard can help. You should always evaluate your standard, too.
Those 50-degree days seem great in the winter, but they seem downright cold in the summer. Make sure you are using the right thermometer when you gauge the temperature. A point-of-reference is necessary to understand your true situation.
I have recently been working with a client that has been trying to get results after installing a new ERP. The technical installation went successfully and there were few issues to work out. However, nine months later they are still suffering from inaccurate data and technology reversion. So if the ERP works correctly and the system was properly specified for the application, why the financial discrepancies?
It boils down to people. I had a conversation with the President of the company and he said that some people just didn’t embrace the change and that forcing people onto a new system wasn’t going well. Ahah! Forcing. That was the clue that led me to ask more questions. The basic response was that the users were never really brought into the process and now the company was paying for it. Literally.
The project was budgeted to cost around $1.5 million. Really not much when you consider what some organizations pay for an ERP. However, financial losses within the first nine months were projected around that same amount and the capital investment is up to $3.2 million. There is still yet another phase of implementation that needs to be completed before the implementation is even considered complete.
So with a total cost approaching $7 million, don’t you think it would have been worth another few hundred thousand to add some training and headcount for allowing the users to become more familiar with the software? They should have been asked their opinions up front on the best ways to implement for their locations and how to structure their processes to better fit the new system. These things weren’t considered to be part of the ERP implementation.
So what are the lessons learned?
- Invest a little more money to reduce the cost and aggravation that comes with change.
- Let people be part of the process rather than victims of it.
- Give yourself twice as much time as you think you will need because people are slow to change.
- Understand that change is hard and takes time and persuasion.
- Create local champions to help cheer on the progress of the changes.
- Lead the change by supporting it, not forcing it.
We all need a map (yes fellas, even you). Maps are tools to navigate in areas that are unfamiliar. They hold immense amounts of information in very simple forms. Maps help us to remember where we have been and how to get to where we are going.
We navigate in unfamiliar media every day. The trick is to know how to make a map when there isn’t one around. Below are some basic ideas on how to make a map of a project, a development plan, or a strategy. Let me know your thoughts.
- Start with an idea. Vague is okay when starting the process. You may not know where you will end up, but have an idea of the outcome.
- Lay down the rough lines. Outlining is useful and so is creating nested topics. If working a project, think about significant milestones that have to happen to reach the end.
- Start to fill in the detail. This step is progressive and iterative. Once you start filling in details you will have to refine other parts of your map and revise. This leads to more detail.
- Think of different ways to deliver information. Maps use symbols, lines, numbers, legends, etc. Think of how you might incorporate the same into your map. Using different colors or thicker lines to demonstrate impact or size is a simple way to add information (large cities have a different symbol and are usually in bold type on a map).
- Proofread. Have someone else try to navigate using your map. That is the ultimate test. Can he get from here to there? This is useful for strategies, procedures, presentations.
- Make it easy to read. You don’t want people to have to stare at your map for days before they know how to use it. But don’t forget that people need to be trained on how to read maps. You didn’t know how to use a map before you were taught and you probably haven’t seen a map like the picture above unless you are a pilot.
Maps can be graphical, linear, or simply post-it notes on a wall with string. It’s about organizing the information and making it available to others. These are skills any leader or project manager must have to be successful.
How have you used maps in your life?