Doing all or nothing often feels easier than making minor adjustments. An all or nothing approach takes fewer on-going decisions than a moderate approach. But the huge investment of time and energy can put enormous pressure on us, which may not be feasible given other responsibilities. Then the excuses come—“I’d do all if I only had more time, better employees, a bigger budget, but I don’t, so I’ll do nothing.”
Smaller steps are not as exciting and may not feel like they’re worth the effort. Try setting a goal that feels worth investing in, but only pushes your schedule and commitments a small amount—enough to notice an improvement but well within your realistic capabilities.
Here’s an example of a moderate approach to change the way you train your employees or regulate your work schedule. A client of ours was trying to prepare her team for a major restructuring that would require a number of current team members to begin working more independently. She came to us asking how she could get them to begin making the decisions that she currently did.
She understood that she needed to stop answering their questions and encourage them to find answers by themselves. But she was worried that they would think it strange and even hostile if she simply refused to answer their questions one day.
“How do I explain the change?”
“How often do you answer their questions now?” Jay asked.
“They really aren’t required to think about all the ramifications of most questions so it’s faster if I just answer them and they can get back to work.”
“You need to consider potential future responsibilities when you’re training and working with current line-level team members. Start ongoing, incremental training by challenging them to think in order to prepare them for future responsibilities. In addition, you will have a system to recognize potential leaders. Be transparent about your training intent and regularly ask for suggested answers, which you can then evaluate with the team member. Now, in your current situation, be transparent about your intent to encourage them to quickly develop answers on their own, but don’t leave them frustrated with no answer.
How about telling them, ‘I want you to begin to come to me with both questions and your best answers. We will spend a minute talking about your thinking. Most of the time I will then expect you to go ahead and implement the answer you think works the best. I know you will make some mistakes, but I trust you to push questions back to me, if you think it might cause serious harm to a client or the business. There may well be an increase in your stress at the beginning, but I’ll stand with you and we will take this a step at a time.’”
She tried it and reported that one team member was flying solo within three days—a competence she would have recognized, if she had been asking for answers all along. Another team member experienced a great deal of anxiety about shouldering the responsibility even though her answers were solid. Again, even though this person rose to the challenge, the transition would have gone more smoothly with a longer ramp-up time. The third team member was great at follow through but poor at strategically thinking through the ramifications of complex answers. An incremental approach over time would have also identified this fundamental weakness and not wasted precious transition time trying to train-up a poor management candidate.
Transitions and change don’t tend to happen in one fell swoop. The first step is most often a small one—a trial, an experiment, a taste of something different. Trying things in small steps also allows lots of room for innovation and for learning what is effective. Small steps leave room for corrective action.
Don’t expect to implement a change with maximum effect and minimum time investment by simply flying into it whole hog. We can help you plan how to integrate change into your team interactions with the least disruption to your work flow and the most benefit. Contact us for more information and a strategic planning session.