4 Keys to Evaluating Before Disrupting

Bart Keeler

28 January 2020

Land surveyors meticulously identify and measure all points and objects within a geographical area. They use the data to map out the land, but also use it to plan for administration and construction—for the disruption of the land, if you will.

Disruption is the catalyst for revolution in society, but in our professional lives, it is often seen as the enemy of progress. This mentality is a roadblock for leaders needing to bring great changes to their companies (leaders who want to bring their teams out of neutral or break habits and cycles that have led to repeated failures).

These leaders usually have a laundry list of changes and new practices to implement. But simply demanding changes and instituting new policies without fully understanding the situation will lead to confusion, chaos and unachieved goals.

So before you pick out the shovel from your shed to start turning up the land for new projects, it’s important that you survey the current situation. You need to identify all the bumps, holes, trees, rocks, ravines and streams that may run through your new plot.

Evaluate the problems facing the organization and collect information from everyone who will be an agent in the change process before you even start planning your new direction. To start, here are four things to focus on before you start disrupting:

1. Identify exactly what needs to be changed and why.

Have you ever seen a new leader who comes into a “bad” situation thinking everything needs to be ripped up and drastic changes need to be made? They often come with a predetermined idea of the flaws in the team and ways to fix them. This “know-it-all” mentality is problematic when you consider that there are already people in the system who are probably aware of the issues they, and the organization, face.

Instead of starting the demolition process, it’s better to ask questions of the team members. This will help the entire journey in several ways. Most importantly, it establishes trust and a positive working relationship between leader and the team members right away. Specific to the project, surveying the team will likely reveal issues with the process or resources that weren’t reported to superiors or reveal how certain initiatives are working and should stay.

2. Prioritize your changes.

Once all the data has been collected, it should become clear what changes are most urgent or imperative. Although we all think every change is vital, this is part of that hallucination of urgency Juliet Funt talked about at Leadercast Live 2019. Instead of thinking of all the things you can do, think of the few things that will make the greatest impact first or, flip that, and change the easiest things first.

As the joke goes, you eat an elephant one bite at a time. This is painfully true for a company or department starting a turnaround. The daunting challenge of upheaving all that’s been done is at least unsettling, if not scary, for the team, so prioritizing the changes can lessen that fear. Listing a few changes first will also ensure they are ingrained in the team because the members are able to focus on a few alterations and acclimate to their new functions before moving on to a new set of changes.

Unfortunately, this will inevitably delay the whole process. But, isn’t that the role of a leader? To guide their followers through difficulties and make these transitions easier? As John Wooden quipped, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” You’d rather get it right than plow through the process, leaving behind uncertainties and discrepancies.

3. Keep some things from the past.

As much as Chip and Joanna Gaines love a total home renovation, they still keep something from the original house, or incorporate something from the family’s old home. This token is not only sentimental, it provides something to make the house feel like home. Keeping some things from the old ways will help existing team members feel secure.

As trivial as this seems, keeping some rituals or technologies from the past will alleviate the shock of major changes. Does the team need a new instant messaging tool? Is taking away the work-from-home days truly necessary or just a preference? By keeping just a couple of the “old ways,” the team will be more likely to adopt the major changes.

This way, they are able to implement new duties or functions with some comfortability and confidence. Communicating with other departments for the first time could be easier through a familiar chat tool. Knowing you still get a decent cup of coffee from a carafe coffee maker can be a comfort when you’re in the middle of a company shift.

4. Give the big picture, assign small chunks.

Have you ever worked with a friend or group to put together a large puzzle? Like one of those thousand-piece cityscapes? Even though you may be working on one quadrant, having the whole picture on the front of the box to look at helped you along the way.

Employees are more likely to buy in when they understand the big picture, the company-wide goals and the values behind the new direction. Turning around an organization or starting a new venture requires holistic vision that needs to be shared with everyone who will make it happen.

More than just explaining the whole plan to the team, each member needs to understand the role they will play in the transformation. Providing in-depth instructions to each silo of the organization will mitigate uncertainties and shorten the learning curve that each employee will indubitably experience.

When you’re ready to start major positive disruptions in your organizations, make sure you have the team members on board by involving them in the strategic planning process and making the change easier for them to digest. Understanding the lay of the land will help you create a better plan and ensure you’re able to lead your team through unexplored territories.

Bart Keeler

Bart Keeler is a content marketer, blogger and podcaster who discusses leadership, workplace culture and sports. He is also editor of The Smoking Musket, a West Virginia Mountaineers community. A retired athlete, Bart draws on his competitive background to connect find the driving force behind leadership icons. Bart lives in Atlanta and is an avid fan of all Atlanta sports teams, as well as his WVU Mountaineers.

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