Moving The Small Rocks

By | December 4, 2008


Part of my job involves helping teams identify potential improvements in the way they do work. A lot of focus revolves around eliminating waste, implementing more productive practices, and increasing collaboration in an effort to increase stakeholder value. This, in turn, causes changes in the way work is accomplished. Change is difficult for most organizations. Recognizing this we often create a “program” and rally everyone around the program to implement change and this can sometimes lead us into trouble.

How about this example:
We’ve identified the silver bullet that will solve our ills. It will be difficult to implement, will take years, and will be impacting to everyone. We will support you, we will provide training, we will provide mentoring, we will provide celebrations. This is one of our top goals.” All the stars align, communication is provided, and in a flurry of activity begin to spend more time implementing the silver bullet and less time focusing on what is truly important.

Sound familiar?

You might call this the big rock approach to change and it can create all manner of dysfunctional behavior. The worst of which is an alignment of all employees around the silver bullet with such force that they lose sight of the primary goal of the company. Too often the big rock becomes the goal.

I suggest using the big rock to help set the “fence posts”. (Setting the fence posts is a phrase a colleague of mine likes to use when speaking about phase or iteration goals.) Use the big rock to drive the overall road map and create a course of action. Have those impacted by change to help define and move the small rocks. Move each small rock one at a time; each accomplishing an incremental goal; each contributing to the completion of the big rock goals. At some point, the team looks back at all of the completed small rocks and, drum roll, they’ve accomplished the goals of the big rock.

Focus on the small rocks to eliminate the risk that everyone will become overly focused on the big rock. Move enough small rocks and the big rock goal will be met.

Plan around the big rocks but execute by moving the small rocks.

Photo by: Randen L Pederson

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