Sometimes our clients aren’t ready to embrace the full-scale magnitude of the challenges before them. This means that they are also unlikely to develop or support comprehensive solutions to solve those challenges.
So what should change leaders do in these situations? Feed the client the elephant, one bite at a time.
I was working on a team to help a client system develop and stand up a new function inside its organization. We put together the case for change, and began educating leaders on what we were intending to accomplish. While we were aligned with leadership on what pain points we were attempting to resolve, we vastly differed on the scope, scale and magnitude of the desired solution. Our proposal didn’t make it past a first round review with leadership and we were sent back to the drawing board to re-formulate our ideas.
In general, there could be several reasons why leaders don’t sign off on the entire scope of a change at the beginning of a project:
- They don’t understand or feel the need for change.
- They understand the need for change, but don’t understand the merits of the proposed solution.
- They understand the need for change and the proposed solution, but don’t believe the proposed solution will fix the problem.
- They understand the need for change and the proposed solution, but they don’t believe the organization or project team has the capability or will to actually execute the solution (so they ask, why should we expend all this effort?).
- The understand the need for change and the proposed solution, they believe it can be executed, but they don’t like the implications of the solution (for example, the change threatens the status quo, power, influence, turf, reporting relationships, etc).
Change leaders and project teams may not always be in a position to diagnose the root cause of the resistance they are facing. In that case, it might be necessary to scale back on the scope and direction of what is being proposed to allow the organization to tackle the change incrementally.
On our project, we were asked to deliver a portion of our original solution in a shorter time-frame than was originally proposed. We realized then that the project scope was reduced because we were asking the client to bite off more than it could chew at the moment. Leaders just weren’t ready to eat the entire elephant. They weren’t ready to tackle systemic change.
So we built a deliverable into our project plan to help leaders re-evaluate and reassess what else would be needed at the end of the project. It was a checkpoint that would allow everyone to take stock of what was accomplished and plan for what should happen next. It was our way of helping the organization prepare to consume more of the elephant.
Incremental change. A commitment to continuous improvement. These philosophies just might be what is needed to avoid locking tusks. They just might be the bite-sized portions of change that are palatable to leaders and that can help build momentum for longer term transformational change.
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