Lights! Camera! Inaction!

The location is scouted, people are in their places and know their parts, the scene is set and we’re ready to shoot any day…so why aren’t the cameras rolling?

Common obstacles to change include not being ready to change, not knowing what needs to change and not knowing how to change. But what if the need is recognised, the solutions are visible, the people are ready, but nothing is happening?

Here are five reasons why an organisation might find itself ready to act, but unable to perform.

Has anyone seen the director?

Like all great movies, successful change programs need a director. Someone who can picture how it all comes together and who can give clear instructions on what the final cut will look like. They drive the action and motivate everyone to give their best. Without this person, an organisation is just a cast of people ready to perform.

The director is the one who puts together the strongest crew to achieve the change, so that senior project team members understand and communicate the shared vision, and help remove obstacles to achieving it. It is the director’s role to inspire, energise, guide and call ‘Action!’ for every scene.

A movie without a director never gets made.

That’s your cue

Unlike with movies and plays, in managing change you cannot have group rehearsals in which to endlessly fumble and start over. That is way too costly. You should prepare your people with a script far enough in advance, so that they know exactly when to change, what their part is and how their part intersects with other parts to make it successful.

In an organisation-wide change project, the communication of the change in advance helps to get nervous actors used to the idea, and enthusiastic actors preparing for it. Often, they will talk with each other and draw attention to issues before the real filming starts. And make sure you don’t forget the bit players, cameos and extras. They also need guidance, and clarity to perform their part well.

For any change to happen, everyone has to know and play their part.

And the Oscar goes to…

It is sometimes the case that an organisation is trying to smash box office records, when it should just really focus on telling a compelling and winning story. If your project is more of a glory train than a real change piece, your audience (and your sponsors) will see right through it and any chance of real success will greatly decrease.

Implementation (especially for long programs) requires energy, belief and commitment over time. And while strong project leadership will direct activity and get things done, if the attitude around the change is not genuine, and there is more of a rush to glory than a rush to actually finish tasks properly, then you may end up with an expensive flop on your hands.

Don’t try to make a blockbuster, when perfectly good mini-series will do.

Too much improv

When changes are clear and obvious, but there is no real action being taken, the do-ers  in an organisation will start making things happen anyway. They may design or implement what they think are solutions for their area, without bothering to wait for anyone else. You probably even hired them because they are so proactive.

It is common to end up with pockets of high-functioning teams in an organisation because of these energetic people, but to solve organisation-wide issues, all teams need to do the same thing in the same way. And this can mean having to undo the good work of people who took the initiative in the first place, leaving them feeling undervalued. And the catch-22 is, that these are the people needed to support and implement the broader change program.

If a common script is not provided soon enough, people will improvise their own idea of a good line.

Excuse me, do you know who I am?

This is the cliché line of any ‘almost famous’ celebrity brat barking to get their own way. If your organisation contains one or two of these celebrities (individuals or groups), their attitude is possibly stopping change ideas from being implemented. It could be because they are annoyed they didn’t come up with the idea themselves, or that they will not get enough attention before, during and after the change.

Often they will be vocal detractors who have a fair amount of influence, and say things like “I raised that issue years ago… or we tried that years ago and it failed…”. For whatever reason, they are unwilling to see beyond their own reflection. There are a number of stakeholder management tactics to handle actors of this kind, and it is worth thinking about these before you start shooting.

Handle your divas carefully.  They are worth a lot at the box office if you can get the best performance from them.

The last line…

It can be baffling to be faced with willingness, ideas, energy and even great plans, but still not see change happen. If this sounds familiar, look to the senior crew and your key actors to work out where any dysfunction might be. And if all else fails, hire Martin Scorsese.

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