Strategy or Execution?
Why do the results of even good plans and strategies sometimes fall short of our expectations in the execution? Most of the time, it is because we make the mistake of focusing solely on strategy and planning. In fact, that is “thinking” about change, not “executing” change. The implementation can be far more difficult than the planning because there are people involved. People have different reactions and points of view, different interests and needs. People decide whether to help, hinder or ignore any change initiative. People determine the success or failure for any planned change.
Successful change agents all possess a vital ability. They understand the importance of gaining support for any change initiative and they are able to obtain people’s “willing buy-in” to that change. They recognize people’s emotional as well as logical reactions and are able to reason with any point of view. Only then are they able to link people’s best efforts to the execution of sound plans.
Buy-in or commitment is a powerful thing. It takes people out of analysis or skepticism and causes co-ownership and the emotional resolve to act and see a task through to completion. Without it, change initiatives are doomed from the start. With it, you get people on board (leadership) and working in sync (teamwork) on an on-going, daily, project-by-project basis.
My experience helping my clients implement change successfully shows that there are a number of important factors in ensuring that the skills of gaining buy-in to change, practicing leadership and causing teamwork are acquired and put to use.
1. Make the skills explicit and learnable. One problem many organizations have when attempting to give their people the skills necessary to implement change is that these are “soft” skills, not easily defined or tested. However, there are specific skills that go into gaining the buy-in and support of others. These include listening skills, rapport-building skills, analytical skills, positioning skills, influencing skills and the ability of gaining willing commitments and action from other people.
2. Coach the skills; don’t just instruct them. Simply telling people about a skill set is ineffective in building proficiency in these skills. The best methods for causing skills to be acquired to high degrees of performance excellence are the same hands-on methods used in sports, martial arts and performing arts–through coaching. Coaching causes people to acquire “the feel” of a skill not just an intellectual understanding of it, and consequently, they’re more likely to make the skill habitual and apply it to real work situations. This doesn’t have to be done individually. Group training can and should involve actual coached practice of the skills, step-by-step, in a supportive environment that builds on people’s successes.
3. Spread these skills throughout the organization. The ability to implement change is eventually needed throughout the ranks in a customer-driven organization. Work teams need the skills as much as any manager. After all, work teams exist to implement change on a continuing basis. Individual contributors also need the skills if they are being asked to serve or obtain customers within or outside the company.
In short, the skill of obtaining buy-in and support is the core skill of doing business with others. Enhancing this ability in your workforce will cause change initiatives to be successful and lead to tremendous payoffs in effectiveness, efficiency, cooperation and overall business success.
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About Patrick Malone
Patrick T. Malone, a Senior Partner with The PAR Group, has decades of experience in operations, customer service, and sales management. Before joining PAR as a senior consultant in 1989, Patrick worked in a variety of management roles including Vice President - National Sales Manager for The Scotts Companies and American Greetings. As a key…