Focus on the Right Work Product and the Rest Will Fall in Place

by Mike Shipulski

Focus on the Right Work Product and the Rest Will Fall in Place

We think we have more control than we really have. We imagine an idealized future state and try desperately to push the organization in the direction of our imagination. Add emotional energy, define a rational approach, provide the supporting rationale and everyone will see the light. Pure hubris.

What if we took a different approach? What if we believed people want to do the right thing but there’s something in the way? What if like a log jam in a fast-moving river, we remove the one log blocking them all? What if like a river there’s a fast-moving current of company culture that wants to push through the emotional log jam that is the status quo? What if it’s not a log at all but, rather, a Peter Principled executive that’s threatened by the very thing that will save the company?

The Peter Principled executive is a tough nut to crack. Deeply entrenched in the powerful goings on of the mundane and enabled by the protective badge of seniority, these sticks-in-the-mud need to be helped out of the way without threatening their no-longer-deserved status. Tricky business.

Rule 1: If you get into an argument with a Peter Principled executive, you’ll lose.

Rule 2: Don’t argue with Peter Principled executive.

If we want to make it easy for the right work to happen, we’ve got to learn how to make it easy for the Peter Principled executive to get out of the way. First, ask yourself why the executive is in the way. Why are they blocking progress? What’s keeping them from doing the right thing? Usually it comes down to the fear of change or the fear of losing control. Now it’s time to think of a work product that will help make the case there’s a a better way. Think of a small experiment to demonstrate a new way is possible and then run the experiment. Don’t ask, just run it. But the experiment isn’t the work product. The work product is a short report that makes it clear the new paradigm has been demonstrated, at least at small scale. The report must be clear and dense and provide objective evidence the right work happened by the right people in the right way. It must be written in a way that preempts argument – this is what happened, this is who did it, this is what it looks like and this is the benefit.

It’s critical to choose the right people to run the experiment and create the work product. The work must be done by someone in the chain of command of the in-the-way executive. Once the work product is created, it must be shared with an executive of equal status who is by definition outside the chain of command. From there, that executive must send a gracious email back into the chain of command that praises the work, praises the people who did it and praises the leader within the chain of command who had the foresight to sponsor such wonderful work.

As this public positivity filters through the organization, more people will add their praise of the work and the leaders that sponsored it. And by the time it makes it up the food chain to the executive of interest, the spider web of positivity is anchored across the organization and can’t be unwound by argument. And there you have it. You created the causes and conditions for the log jam to unjam itself. It’s now easy for the executive to get out of the way because they and their organization have already been praised for demonstrating the new paradigm. You’ve built a bridge across the emotional divide and made it easy for the executive and the status quo to cross it.

Asking for the right work product is a powerful skill. Most error on the side of complication and complexity, but the right work product is just the opposite – simple and tight. Think sledgehammer to the forehead in the form of and Excel chart where the approach is beyond reproach; where the chart can be interpreted just one way; where the axes are labeled; and it’s clear the status quo is long dead.

Business model is dead and we’ve got to stop trying to keep it alive. It’s time to break the log jam. Don’t be afraid. Create the right work product that is the dynamite that blows up the status quo and the executives clinging to it.

 
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Image credit – Pixabay

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shipulskiMike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior. He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.