The wilting initiative – Are you at risk?

Dying InitiativeA new corporate initiative has been established. Business sponsors are hand picked, a program office is established to manage it and the change team is driving the initiatives across the organization. But then a key person leaves and suddenly the initiative loses momentum and starts wilting.

Think about the string of initiatives that runs through organisations today like Six Sigma, Lean, Social Enterprise, Cloud, Innovation, etc. To get the organisation focused, and to get these initiatives launched, they need sponsorship and a core set of people who drive them. But all too often there is an ongoing critical dependency on the key people driving these initiatives. We only find out that sustainable change has not been achieved until the core team disbands. Initiatives are really easy to get going, but hard to embed into ‘business a usual’ and so the organisations end up being dependent on a few passionate souls to keep the momentum going.

We’d like to suggest a way to determine exactly the extent to which your initiative is reliant on a selective few, and what you can do about it.

Case Study

EngineeringdrawingOne of our clients, a relatively young organisation responsible for delivering capital projects has a project portfolio worth $3 billions. At the point of our engagement there were 13 project teams delivering large construction projects across a geographical area of almost 1,000,000 square kilometres.

The organisation knew that Organisational Change and Communication were critical elements that had not been addressed well in the past. Staff were not happy when they could read about a local project in the media before any announcements had been made internally. They knew that this needed to be addressed.

Selected staff members had been appointed to drive the adoption of a change and communications approach across all of the project teams to create a step change in planning and execution. These staff members were available to assist the project teams by creating reusable templates and act as ‘coaches’ to the project teams.

Eighteen months after the initial creation of the change management and communications program, the central team were unsure exactly how well the project teams were working with each other, and how well the central team were connecting with the project teams. A recent escalation in workload suggested that the local project teams were not drawing on each other but still heavily reliant on the central team.

We were engaged to help uncover the collaboration patterns within and between project teams and their interactions with the central team. We surveyed 4 key project roles across the 13 teams as well as core members of the central team, and in the map below you’ll see what we found.

Each of the people surveyed are circles and we have drawn lines between the people based on the question ‘who are the most important people you draw on to deliver this project’. Arrows indicate nominations. In other words, many incoming arrows indicate a really important person.

(interactive version)

Program With Central TeamTwo of the key members of the central team is right in the middle of the map. Below we have removed the central team. 

Programwithoutcentral-teamWhat is left is a number of quite weakly connected project team members and some of them are now working isolated from any other project teams.

Armed with these insights the central team started planning towards the next phase of the ‘maturity’ of the program. That is, to enable the teams to work with and learn from each other and become less reliant on the central team.

If you’re in a similar situation, here are a couple of ideas about how you may lessen the (over-) reliance on a few individuals:

  1. Create regular knowledge sharing sessions where the central/program team don’t act as ‘experts’, but as brokers
  2. Rotate the role of ‘chair’ for meetings so more people take ownership
  3. Make ‘site visits’ a part of the induction process to foster sideways collaboration
  4. Short exchanges of team members. Working along side someone else creates a stronger connection
  5. Peer reviews of major deliverables before ‘top down’ approvals

Organisations should be acutely aware of the risk of relying on a few passionate souls. The first step to mitigate this risk is to map out exactly how reliant you are and on whom. Once you understand the exact gap you can put in place very targeted interventions to minimise the risk. Finally, map the relationship patterns at regular intervals to check the effectiveness of your interventions.