It was to be the biggest and most comprehensive realignment of health care ever. When President Obama engineered the Affordable Care Act the vision for the project was grand and promising. (NOTE: I am NOT concerned about politics here. I reference this ONLY because it is a graphic and present example of how things go wrong and what we can learn about implementing visionary changes in our own business, department, or organization. What your political beliefs are in this matter are irrelevant as are mine.)
1. Fail to secure the cooperation and support of the ENTIRE executive team. Don’t even think about trying to bring the senior leadership on board by mandate. Simply issuing a directive that the new vision is here and you expect their cooperation is really short-sighted. Why? Because the objective is not the start of the project. The objective is its implementation and completion. When you try to bypass this and simply get it passed by a simple majority you risk giving fuel to opposition. The more sweeping the vision the more critical the need to get everyone on board. You cannot lead, support, follow-up, and live the results of the strategic planning process by yourself. You can’t even do it when a large portion of the support staff are either unenthusiastic and ambivalent or outright hostile. True enough, in politics one will almost never secure the complete and utter compliance of everyone but to not even try is a serious error in judgment. When something goes wrong, and it always does, you will need the help, advice, and validation of others to recover and get back on track. Without it you’ve made enemies when you could have had friends and you’ve made things that much harder for yourself. Visionaries are supposed to be inspirational so that others are enthused about the vision not conscripted. Do not say things like “Well, I’m the boss (CEO,CFO, Director, just fill in the blank with whatever your title is) so you have to go along. Make it easier for even the naysayers to give the benefit of the doubt.
2. Spin the facts. Spinmeisters always come off as deceptive and conniving. Always. Doesn’t matter which side of the issue, don’t spin the facts. Like a spider, those who spin the facts often get caught in their own web. Be frank, open, honest, and objective. You’ll get much farther than trying to baffle someone with BS.
3. Delegate all your responsibility. You have articulated the vision, don’t try to pass it off onto others. I think the President erred in letting others write his signature legislation. He apparently wants it to be his legacy so why would one pass it off to someone else. It is, ultimately, the leader’s responsibility. Make sure those to whom you engage for implementation share your sense of responsibility for it. I wrote about responsibility and accountability but it’s been a few months ago in this blog so it’s good to review it now. Yes, you need others. No, you can’t divorce yourself from the process. The more comprehensive the vision, the more engaged you must be along the way. You absolutely do not want to get to the day of unveiling and have things go catastrophically wrong. Even if you recover, it damages your image as a star thrower. Nothing succeeds like success and nothing stains like the tinge of failure. Lowe’s tried to re-orient the company into a new reliance upon and use of technology. The last I checked it still was not functional even two years after the announced date of implementation. Which brings me to my next point.
4. Carelessly manage delay or outright failure along the way, it result in a rising tide of cynicism, negativity, and declining employee morale. Refer back to #3. You just can’t turn the key, flip the switch, and expect things to manage themselves. Leadership and management overlap (check out illustration #1). Encourage, admonish, exhort, correct, engage, stay connected.
5. Don’t walk the talk. This must not become a we vs them situation. You are the visionary head and leading from behind is impossible. Leaders lead.
Eloquence is not enough. There comes a time when you must demonstrate with your life what you’ve said with your mouth.
6. Don’t change measurement systems. Quantitative measures may not tell everything. Measurement systems benefit your associates and employees and they benefit you, too. Don’t spin numbers and don’t celebrate numbers that have little to do with the changes you want to bring about. Reward and recognize progress towards the vision.
7. Ignore the challenge of change. Some people react well to change, most don’t. Some are change junkies, they like change all the time and get bored with routine. Most don’t. Expect the challenge of change and deal with it. Don’t even think about trying to squelch it. Suppressing the anxiety, doubt, and dismay of team members does nothing to fix it.
You’re the leader, so lead. It is never a one and done proposition. All day every day, your role varies in three ways. What are they? Check back in on Thursday.