The struggle to see an implementation through is a daunting task. Attempts to change how people work and interact call for much more than a refresh of their operating procedures, or even the definition of a new rationale for their connectedness to the rest of the organisation. Pretty much all implementation projects look like a failure midway through, as what they have achieved is too incremental and not transformational enough.
This implementation black hole is fuelled by a shortage of transformation capabilities in many organisations. It is hard to strike a right balance between the executive sponsorship and the transactional content that will make a transformation look credible in the eyes of the majority of players. Legislating from the top has little mileage lower in the ranks if it is not anchored in meaningful activities for all people involved, expressed in ways that resonate with their view of their world. It is not enough to tell an organisation what it needs to change. Staff have to be told exactly how their daily activities will be impacted. Too much high profile support without in-depth coherence of activities and interfaces will raise cynicism like a wildfire. Alternatively, too many specifics about particular functions will disqualify the change in the eyes of other parts of the organisation and limit the power of its executive sponsorship.
A lot of success can be achieved by testing new ways of working, under the auspices of good sponsorship. Call it sandpits, trials or pilots, as long as they bring a protected environment of restricted scale, where methods can be adjusted fast, and where hiccups is accepted as long as it quickly leads to significant step changes in output. The sponsor must acknowledge that obstacles and difficulties are the reward, as much as the final outcome. After a few iterations, the organisation will find itself with completely different ways of doing things. As they are proof of concept, these pilots rely on low-cost solutions and manual management; looking at scalability will come later. Staff involved in these trials can then act as trainers for an enterprise-wide roll-out, something that can happen very quickly, with lower risks for the going concern than with a big bang approach.
Such an approach can only work if the pilots demonstrably address the problem they were set up to solve. The issue had to be serious enough, and the step change in performance indisputable. As pilots are asking for staff to transform their ways of working on top of keeping delivering their contribution, they clearly bring an additional workload. Only very motivated and very apt staff should therefore be considered for such an approach, and their contribution should be acknowledged in front of the entire organisation when time comes to celebrate success.
So, when the time comes to address issues in your ways of working, it might be worth asking yourself the following questions:
What track record do we have in successfully implementing change in our organisation?
How comfortable are we with failure as a way to learn and develop better working solutions?
Have we got movers and shakers spread across the organisation to support a piloting approach?