My department doesn't seem to be prepared to follow through on any initiatives to improve our effectiveness. Even when we had an away-day recently, and came up with lots of good ideas, nobody apart from me has done any of the things we agreed. How can I get them to participate?
There are lots of reasons why change doesn't happen, even when those involved understand the rationale for it. Apathy, dislike of change, the perceived difficulty of making things happen and lack of knowledge of how to do things differently rank high as obstacles. So do work overload and the lack of agreed markers by which progress can be monitored.
One of the most common reasons for lack of follow-through is the failure to generate commitment to the process. Essentially, this is usually a problem of ownership. It's not enough for you as manager to be committed to change and to explain to others what's required. If your people don't fully engage with the reasons why change is desirable, they won't feel any onus to go through the pain required to make a difference, even though they may verbally comply.
In any new initiative there's the prize as well as the price to consider. The prize is the benefit that will accrue from the change. The price is the cost of achieving it, including the labour involved and the emotional effort, as well as any money required. As a would-be change agent, you can work with both these levers. If the perceived price is too high, you can increase the desirability of the prize or reduce the perceived cost.
One way to enhance perception of the goal is by ensuring that that there are some direct benefits to those involved, expressed in terms that are meaningful to them. For some, the goal of being part of a more effective team might be enough, but others will need to have some tangible, practical examples of how this move will be of advantage to them.
Reducing the perceived price can include finding ways to make the necessary adjustments as easy as possible. The best way to do this is by involving those who will have to implement the change in developing the practicalities.
If you tell them how to do it, you will neither engage them nor come up with the means of achieving the end goal that most suits their way of working.
Away-days can be great for promoting blue-sky thinking and a host of ideas. However, when the output is a long laundry list of things it would be nice to have - as so often happens - it's not surprising that, when participants return to their day-to-day responsibilities, nothing concrete happens. I make it a rule when working with teams off-site that there cannot be more than 10 things that the group needs to commit to do - preferably fewer. Each action has a name and a timetable attached to it. If the project is complex and needs the involvement of several people over time, the entry on the action list focuses on what can be done in the next week, or fortnight, at most. The group also undertakes to review progress regularly.
Try to include quick wins, so that you can all see some progress and gain encouragement to tackle the bigger tasks. If you are responsible for running the update meeting, show appreciation for those who kept their promises and delivered the action list.
For those who haven't managed to complete their task - who present reasons, not results - engage them in problem-solving to come up with a methodology for moving things forward. Sometimes, nothing happened because the task is too big to tackle. If this is the case, divide tasks into bite-sized pieces, or enlist the help of someone else.
Last year, I worked with directors of Sanctuary plc, a growing music group, to help them identify the culture they wanted to create and the ways in which they wanted to foster global operation. Since then, they have made their goals a reality by making a progress update a regular item on the management board agenda. This has not only signalled that the goals are important to the business; it has encouraged healthy competition among the directors charged with driving change.
If all else fails, consider providing a reward for those who make the effort to do something differently or - if you are not feeling so charitable - create sanctions for those who don't co-operate. One company for which I worked, desperate to have proper data on billable hours worked and despairing of our inability to complete our timesheets, decreed no expenses would be paid unless they were up to date. The problem disappeared. Sweet reasonableness doesn't always get results. We should heed Roosevelt's advice on leadership: 'Speak softly and carry a big stick.'