Michael in Culture 10 minutes

The Power of Precendence

The other day I a friend and colleague was working on a central initiative and asking me for help. He couldn’t get any traction on this initiative because all of the people who would need to approve of this initiative kept bringing up more and more issues.

The groups were caught in a common trap of any change: let’s make the Perfect State that Everyone Will Adhere To. The stakes of the whole endeavor are raised when we arrive at that point. Everyone is now thinking to themselves, “This is my last chance to have any say in how this works; I better get all my concerns addressed before moving forward with it.” In a large enterprise, this means that there will be tons of meetings, tons of confusion, and a lot of wasted time.

I recommended to my friend to use the power of precedence to his advantage. Don’t fall for the trap of making the Perfect State. Instead, find a team with a serious business problem that your solution will address. Use that team’s leverage within the organization to get your change operational. Repeat this process. Pretty soon you will have a lot of teams using solution, getting obvious value out of it.

With this strategy, as concerns come along, the concerns are rightly within a business context and not some mental exercise. This keeps everyone focused on doing what we’re paid to do: increase profitability through increased efficiency, increased revenue due to faster speed of market, and lower risk. And, since you’ve been doing this in the real world, as concerns arise, you can say, “Let me show you how we do it.” You have precedence on your side. This isn’t an ivory tower exercise. You’re not hopping from one visio document to another to get everyone on board before you try something out.

You’re doing incremental experiments which are leading you to increased profitability and lower risk. This is creating a flywheel of change for the organization, within which people can express their concerns and thus become a part of the process to greater profitability and decreased risk. This is what a functional change initiative looks like. Everything else, unfortunately, is usually theater.