Below is a preview chapter from Steven’s upcoming book, Be a Change Champion. Mastering Momentum: 10 Factors for Sustaining the Boom and Avoiding the Bust of Change
Momentum Key 2: Expect Problems
As the saying goes in the military, “No plan of battle ever survives contact with the enemy.” This saying doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan; it just means we should do so with the understanding that the original plan is going to need modifications along the way. Such adjustments are nearly unavoidable because once you launch your plan, you are going to learn things you could never have anticipated when you first created it.
Expectations are critical here. Often, people forget that even the best, most well-thought-out plans will still need to be adjusted or modified. Instead, they create a perception that once a certain stage is completed, the team is “in the clear.” Change doesn’t work this way, and it is likely that you will experience many additional complications or issues, some that will even affect deadlines and budget. This is why expectations must be managed.
You can manage these expectations by letting people know from the beginning that there will be problems and issues along the way, but no matter what, success will be achieved in the end. Otherwise, when people encounter a bump in the road, they immediately think, “See, I knew this would happen,” and they begin to fight the change because they don’t believe it can succeed. That is when all the naysayers waiting in the wings come out and make things worse. (We will talk more about naysayers and how to manage them in Key 7.)
One of the best examples of this scenario is found in IT. When new IT initiatives are launched, no matter how well a program is designed, there are always bugs and challenges. If the expectations aren’t properly managed, people blame the initiative and think the new program is a failure. However, if they know there will be kinks to work out, then they can contribute valuable feedback rather than complaints and patiently wait for a positive result. What makes the difference is whether expectations are managed.
Use Measurement to Your Advantage
Establishing an expectation that progress will be measured and reported is also helpful here. This lets people know that there will be objective measurements, and adjustments will be made as needed. One of my clients was working on a spacecraft program and, during the design phase, they had a problem with the weight of the payload. The project manager put up a sign on the doorway where every team member entered that displayed the current design weight of the payload versus the maximum allowed weight. Every day each employee saw the challenge. Each day everyone saw what had to be achieved and was able to identify the gap between the goal and reality. Adjustments were made, and, eventually, the team made the weight.
A good practice when implementing any change is to build in a mechanism to help mitigate the challenges that will ultimately come up. For example, as part of the IT initiative, the team can set up a central FAQ page as well as an inbox or forum for people to submit their feedback, concerns, and unanswered questions. Implementing this helps people to feel heard, share solutions, and feel more confident in the change moving forward.
I have found that leaders who communicate this idea of expecting problems and manage expectations accordingly have a workforce that maintains momentum and who are not rattled when problems crop up. When employees know from the beginning that the expectation is to plan, execute, and adjust along the way, they have a better ability to weather difficulty and stay on track.
One practical idea to help encourage this mindset is to keep your written plans updated, current, and readily accessible to the entire team (see upward arrow 3 on the graph). Doing so helps employees not to be sidetracked by potential options and ideas. If delays occur and adjustments are needed, adjust the timelines and notify the affected parties as necessary. Meeting deadlines and hitting goals is satisfying; keeping plans and deadlines up to date is a great way to keep motivation intact and maintain momentum.