You never achieve success following a straight line to a stable target. Changing conditions, lessons learned, and moving targets require leaders to adjust organizational trajectory. The path to success is a jagged line filled with course adjustments.
High achievers are demoralized when courses adjust. They feel they’ve wasted time and resources on irrelevant activates. After all, they’ve passionately pursued a carrot that you moved. Additionally, some in your organization value stability and have low tolerance for change. To them, adjusting course indicates lack of foresight, planning, or courageous leadership.
Three ways to navigate course adjustments
#1. Keep your eye on external targets. Organizations naturally drift toward internal complexity while losing sight of external targets. Leaders constantly correct organizational drift by shifting focus from insiders to outsiders. Success lies outside your organization with the people you’re serving. This means your training initiatives, LEAN practices, reorganizations, and realignments ultimately are about “them” not you.
#2. Celebrate the past, don’t demonize it. Using past failures as motivation to adjust course insults dedicated employees and volunteers who’ve worked toward organizational success. Rather than complaining, focus on lessons learned. For example, don’t say we failed at gaining new customers. Say, we’ve learned our current methods of phone sales aren’t effective.
#3. Look to outsiders for guidance. Don’t reinvent the wheel, leverage the experience of others. Identify successful leaders and organizations and learn from them. Additionally, reexamine your client’s orientation toward your product or service so that you can enhance your value.
There comes a time when you realize the current course isn’t working. It’s a painful, awkward moment. You may run from it. Or, you may cling to the present hoping conditions will change. The better option is adjusting your course. The path to success is a jagged line.
What other strategies help individuals and organizations navigate course adjustments?
I think I might have a new favorite post on the LF blog! The 2nd paragraph, to me, is exactly where we can say, “Ay, there’s the rub.” (All apologies to Prince Hamlet).
Being a dynamic organization is bound to irritate those at either end of the bell curve…those who aggressively pursue targets on one end, and those who resist all change at the other. A couple suggestions along those lines:
— Worry about the people in the boat, not those still in the water. If 80% of people are at least neutral to the change, it’s better to gain momentum with that 80% than it is to expend all the energy getting that last 20% on board. Odds are, most of the other 20% will try to catch up once they start getting left behind.
— Benchmark against perfection. Be careful not to keep such close tabs on the “other guy” that you repeat his mistakes, too. Do you want to be just like him, or do you want to be different from him? If you want to be different, identify the ideal, then identify the gaps. Some of those gaps might point to cultural, systemic issues that are the root cause of everything else that seems to go wrong. Weed out the root cause and all those little failures might just take care of themselves.
— Don’t wait for things to fail! Planning, metrics, Interim milestones, etc etc will let you know when you’re starting to drift. Developing leading indicators is much more useful than developing lag indicators. The more problems can be detected before they happen, the more opportunity there is to develop those all-so-important course corrections.
Another thought-inspiring post, Dan. Keep it coming!
Great post, Dan. Having this discussion with a number of folks.
Lift your people’s eyes to the ‘why’, the consistent destination, so when course adjustment happens, communication forwards the ‘why’ and chaos is lessened.
If your ship is headed to the Bahamas and you have to steer off the original course for a time because of bad weather, everyone needs to know you’re still headed to the Bahamas (assuming you are). Hmm … a vacation kind of mind set today!
Keep up the great work.
As the late Dr. Russ Ackoff once told me during the transformation work I led at DuPont related to course adjustments – “Pay more attention to the interactions of your people as opposed to the actions of your people.” Interestingly, once I adjusted my own mindset to think in this fashion, more work was accomplished at a quicker pace and the transformation team became more agile and responsive to course adjustments based on the dynamics occurring in the company and the marketplace.
Great post, and some awesome comments so far.
One additional thing that I would add is to celebrate success, not matter how small, along the way. So many tend to get caught up in the discomfort of change, even if the team is still moving in the right direction. I’ve learned that by catching people doing it right and celebrating success along the way keeps individuals motivated and focused on the desired outcome. Just as you stated in the second point, we often tend to focus on the negative and look at what didn’t work instead of what did or what we learned along the way. When success is noticed and celebrated along the way, people gain momentum. They realize that if they can overcome their past hurdles, they can definitely overcome the next one.
Great post, Dan…and very helpful comments by others. I am especially taken by how dmk’s thought makes bumper sticker sense: “develop leading indicators not lagging indicators.” That’s where I’m living now and am grateful to benefit from the collective wisdom of this blog community.
Am in the midst of one of my greatest. Very humbling. Very open to inspiration. Few things have felt this freeing & filled with anticipation of good for the future!