Busy projects going nowhere

Ever wonder why things don’t happen when you have been doing so much?  Sometimes busyness is confused with achievement and we continue to do things without realising that we may be missing the mark.

Recently I worked with a client who had been trying to implement a project for over three years.  There had been extensive work done on the project and they had frameworks, structures, maps and detailed plans.  Yet virtually no one in the business was doing things the new way and one of the senior leadership team had openly declared it was not his problem.

What quickly became apparent when talking to people both within and beyond the project team was that very few people had ever engaged with the issue and their reasons were clear:

  • There was no visible senior leadership of the project so it was assumed (both implicitly and explicitly) that it wasn’t important
  • There had been very little direct communication
  • The communication that had occurred had focused on very technical details and people tuned out quickly
  • There was no recognition for moving to the new ways and no personal consequences for not changing.

These sound like simple things to fix and generally they are but it takes time and will.

Senior leadership of any change is critical and, with most change, this means the senior leadership team, not just one leader.  It also means consistent messages over time, not just a one off ‘launch’ that is quickly forgotten.  It means working with the new ways, remembering that ‘boss watching’ is alive and well in every workplace.

Whenever there is change, the first response of most people is “what’s in it for me?”.  This is human nature and you need to address this if you want to engage people and bring them along with you.  This means talking about how teams work with the changes and what, specifically, the changes may mean at a personal level.  Encourage questions and suggestions as these will tell you people are thinking about it.  Keep the very technical details for those who want them and focus on the impacts and outcomes with others.

What gets measured gets rewarded, what gets rewarded gets done.  It’s an old adage but remains as true today as it ever was.  If you are asking people to do things differently and take on new tasks have you thought about how these will be measured and recognised?  Approaches you could consider include defining new ways as part of individual KPIs, personal recognition through conversation or email, and recognition at a team or company level.

As a first step you may want to try to get a quick win in one of these areas to give the project new impetus.

If you have a project that seems stuck, no matter how busy people are on it, think about whether your people are aware of and engaged with the final outcome.

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