Common measures must be things like Quality (measure of returns or complaints), Delivery (on time and in full measure), Profit (% return on assets being exploited in their activity after liabilities have been considered) and finally Conformance (measures from audit to ensure agreed standards are being met and the Law is being adhered to).
Basic income must be set by a strict criteria applied to everyone and should be objective not subjective.
We use the ability to follow and design process as the benchmark for pay.
We range through Starter, Pre-follower, Follower, Changer and Creator.
Each level is achieved and maintained (and with documentary evidence as well as audit) to warrant its pay level, Starter pay being linked to minimum wage.
Obviously, value-add must be adequate to afford the pay, this is a pre-requisite- being the master of “putting wheels on tomatoes” will not command any pay if you don’t make any revenue from your mobile tomatoes.
The rest of an individuals pay and perks must come from a share of the profit they generate.
Organisations are like a tangled ball of string. There are many clearly identifiable “knots”, but ultimately all the threads disappear into the heart of the ball where they have hidden interactions with the other threads.
It is a mistake to view an organisation as a series of discrete “knots” each one needing to be untangled individually; this is because the ball of string is a “system” and it needs to be tackled as such.
Why is this relevant?
You can’t consider individual issues like “rational, objective measures” without putting them in their system wide context; it is always tempting to simplify the analysis by bounding the question to how such measures would impact the individual. But such a move would render the analysis impotent and it would itself become time consuming and entirely pointless (not rational and objective).
In my experience within organisations there are powerful forces that underpin the use of measures that are irrational and subjective.
A hierarchical system, based upon Command-and-Control, demands the Conformance-and-Compliance of subordinates.
These reasons are too complex to go into here, but they are an important tool used to maintain the hierarchical status quo of the organisation. The problem is that those irrational and subjective measures used to help stabilise the hierarchy of the organisation are in direct conflict with the demand for competitive/efficient operations. There are so many vested interests within the hierarchy that the irrational, subjective measures are preserved.
Why did I choose rational and subjective measures as the basis of this hack?
Because, going back to the tangled ball of string analogy, rational, objective measures represent one of the two ends of the string. And as anyone knows, to successfully untangle the knots you need to have at least one free end.
The simple knot first.
Rational and objective measures are key to improving process, as all processes must be: rational, aligned with the goals of the organisation and finally, strike a decent compromise between the often conflicting demands of the system as a whole and of the outside world.
With rational and objective measures, all processes can enter into a process of continuous improvement.
This self-evident truism untangles a host of important and simple knots, although leads directly to a more complex one.
The complex knot.
“Continuous improvement” requires something special, something not contained within a process, something that comes from outside the process, something that comes from within a person.
Innovation requires the application of skills that reside only within a person (within the context of human organisations). There is no “innovation app” that will provide it for you.
Innovation is a deeply human, creative act. Rational and objective measures have a great impact upon the application of these deeply human skills; this might seem counter intuitive as such things are normally considered subjective.
The important distinction is that rational and objective measures are a discrete part of the environment and remain so, whereas irrational and subjective measures must intrude into the psyche of the individual.
Rational and objective measures are crucial for a meritocracy; otherwise an organisation is condemned to either “randomly talented” individuals or gradual descent into a kakistocracy- (Greek word for “government by the worst men”).
Rational and objective measures, as expressed above, are crucial to a meritocracy, but their action is not just a function of simple measurement. Rational and objective measures are essential to the expression of human talent; they don’t produce talent, but they do accommodate it.
Rational and objective measures systematically assess the results of human talent. They create a measure of the “shadow” that the human talent has cast onto reality.
This is an important distinction; they don’t measure “trying” or “effort” they just measure the results; and they measure those results consistently across individuals.
You cook a bad meal, it’s objectively a bad outcome. It is not relevant how much you tried, or how difficult it was, or how long it took. The results speak for themselves. You consumed time and resources and the outcome did not add value.
We engage our talents to produce a good result, some people do this with consummate ease, but always the results speak for themselves.
My contention is that; the discretionary engagement of an individual’s talents, in the production of an outcome, is the key benefit of rational and objective measures.
Or put another way in the negative; without rational and objective measures, individuals tend to withhold their talents and rely instead on measures of process rather than outcome.
The crucial aspects of human contribution within organisations. I’m not talking about the processes people carry out, but the bit that can’t be controlled or regulated or standardised.
I’m talking about creativity, curiosity, cooperation, imagination, self-discipline and realization.
These are human traits that computers, and systems, and processes can’t provide. These are the essential human ingredients to long term organisational competitiveness/efficiency.
One might imagine that we apply these human traits in all of our activities, but actually they are entirely discretionary; and people are very fickle in applying these talents.
When an individual feels undervalued, upset or distracted they will be quick to withhold this discretionary contribution.
Irrational, subjective and inappropriate systems inevitably generate upset; it is this upset that motivates individuals to withhold their talents. They can be at work in “body and mind” but not in “spirit”, and by spirit I mean with the above 6 traits of their humanity fully engaged.
Rational, objective and slick systems are the canvas on which these human traits express themselves; irrational, subjective and inappropriate systems generate upset and these traits are consequently withheld.
Rational, objective and slick systems don’t create these human talents, they simply provide a safe environment in which these talents can be expressed.
So, the problem is; organisations maintain systems that upset people.
Irrational, subjective or wasteful systems upset people, whether they are customers, service recipients, members of the organisation, or wider stakeholders.
It might be imagined that rational, objective and slick systems are somehow cold and clinical, focussed only on profit or efficiency, but to the contrary; these systems are essential for the humanity of the individuals within an organisation to flourish.
Few organisations operate a rational meritocracy, they will often have policies that appear rational but their actual procedures seldom are. This is because the policy document was written by a single person, whereas the implemented procedures are often determined within functional departments.
Within a department, the overview of the interdepartmental connections is often lost, as is the connections to the outside world. The result is irrational, subjective or wasteful systems sometimes culminating in what is referred to as systemic failure.
This phrase is used because it implies there was no individual to blame.
The conscious design of such systems is the paramount duty and responsibility of the directors of an organisation, or if this duty and responsibility has been fully delegated, then it falls to those members of the organisation; all other duties are subordinate or contingent.
The core components are:
1) A rational system (both locally and holistically).
2) Objective measures.
3) A whole and complete system, both functionally and temporally.
4) A slick and low cost system.
5) An adaptive system (that is designed to change to reflect the changing demands upon the organisation).
6) Subjective behaviour shaping standards (clearly defined areas of subjectivity).
It is difficult to be explicit about these components as they are necessarily driven by the specifics of an organisation and its context. Directing the conversation to a specific organisation inevitably attracts the criticism that it is being context specific (“oh, that doesn’t apply to my organisation”).
I will use the context of a restaurant- an organisation and the workings of which are familiar to most readers, and it is up to them to see how it is analogous to the organisations they are familiar with.
A rational and holistic system.
Ultimately this component is about dividing the contractual and legal responsibilities of the organisation across the individuals within it. Individuals with responsibility need the resources to handle it.
The legal and contractual responsibilities of the restaurant?
Clearly these are legion, starting with statute, there is the planning code, operators license, liquor license, food hygiene, waste disposal, air pollution, Health and Safety, operating hours, trade descriptions, financial statutes like tax law, accounting law and record keeping, consumer law, duty of care to name but a few.
There are also contracts entered into with suppliers, not just food suppliers but all suppliers; for example payment systems suppliers (credit card transactions). These contracts pull the restaurant into many other statutes, data protection for example.
A special class of supplier is of course the employee, the restaurant is bound by the many specific constraints of employment law. Finally there is the contract entered into with the patron themselves, either explicit or implied.
These are all responsibilities that must be explicitly “held” or explicitly discharged by the organisation. These responsibilities are lengthy yes, and complicated; but not infinite.
Each needs to be explicitly considered and considered as a whole. The important factor is none of them are optional, they are legal requirements.
If a particular responsibility is to be held then it will be the duty of the “controlling mind” (often the owner or manager) or it must be delegated to someone within the organisation (or to a supplier).
A rational system is one that takes these responsibilities and makes sure they reside with people who have the ability to provide a “response”…. “response-able”.
This means they have the skills, the perspective, the information, the authority, the time and the budget to affect a satisfactory response.
Given the finite nature of all of the above, each response must operate “in concert” with all others so that the limits of the organisations resources are not exceeded.
This is why most owner-managers choose to micro manage it all themselves.
The “in concert” aspect of the challenge is much easier to achieve in a single persons’ head.
The alternative is to distribute the responsibilities throughout a team and have them coordinate and choreograph their activities.
Of course, as the business grows it inevitably exceeds the capacity of a single person to hold it all in their head, so eventually it starts to be delegated; the “system” starts to have a life of its own.
For most larger organisations such a “system” is inevitable, moreover it must be a rational system that thoughtfully allocates the responsibility along with the skills, perspective, information, authority, time and budget so that the responsibility can be legitimately held.
Any such system requires feedback (or audit) to confirm that the responsibility is indeed being held in such a way as to meet the contractual and legal requirements.
Such a rational system may divide our imaginary restaurant into functional departments such as kitchen, front-of-house, admin, accounts etc. It must be remembered, that whilst these functions may develop a separate identity and culture within the business they are still simple, self-imposed, arbitrary distinctions; the contractual and legal responsibilities still lie with the organisation even if the way it has been divided provides no discrete place for the responsibility to reside.
The division of an organisation into functional silos often follows a traditional pattern rather than being the result of a carefully considered structure capable of holding the responsibility.
Some of these contractual obligations will be subjective in their nature, they will contain attributes such as “reasonable”, “quality” or “suitable”.
Objectivity is the requirement of a system to explicitly define the criteria important to it. In most cases this is easy, but there will always be difficult obligations; specifically those are the subjective obligations and to whom these responsibilities are to be given.
Subjective obligations are difficult to define, sometimes it is necessary to default to “customer feedback” or ”benchmarking” or even “accepted practice”; nevertheless, such obligations must be made specific and real (they should happen at a time, in a place, and are measurable).
For example, in our restaurant a potential measure of “service quality” may be the size of the tips left by the patrons. This indicator may not be as reliable as is assumed (for example a low price promotional deal may influence the tip level).
This example really illustrates the true holistic nature of an organisation, the arbitrary division into functional departments provides the illusion of bounded and separated functions, but in reality the departments are co-dependant and symbiotic.
Action in one area has an influence upon all others.
A whole and complete system, both functionally and temporally.
This refers to the ability to bring together a functionally divided organisation into a coherent whole. This must be done in such a way that both the demands on the organisation and the activities that go on within it can be seen in their wider context.
A late payment to a supplier may increase the complaints by the customers.
The whole-and-complete nature of a system is an essential attribute to an individual within the system as it provides them the ability to strike compromises.
The effects upon other functional areas, upon other stakeholders, both immediate and in the future, must be clear and obvious.
All individuals who have a duty to respond, must have clear sight across the organisation and be provided with feedback from across the organisation so that they can fully appreciate the consequences of their activities; consequences that transpire immediately and those that only show themselves in the future.
This interdepartmental transparency is seldom done; functional departments within organisations often prohibit such insight into their activities in their own self-interest. Clearly, it would reveal failure as well as success. Secrecy is often a deeply engrained cultural norm.
Most chefs don’t want CCTV in the kitchen….“what would happen if the customer saw me drop his steak on the floor?” Some restaurants deliberately put windows through into the kitchen so that patrons can have confidence in their food preparation.
The purpose of understanding the true and full consequences of your actions is that thoughtful compromises can be struck; compromises that provide overall benefits to the organisation, in pursuit of holding its legal and contractual obligations, as well as pursing gains in overall efficiency and competitiveness.
A slick and low cost system.
Organisations do not operate in isolation. They exist at the intersections of economic flows within the wider economy, much like a restaurant situated at a major highway intersection. These economic flows provide the resources that sustain the organisation.
As always, there is competition for those resources, organisations earn their tenure by remaining competitive or efficiently delivering against their remit; they have no right to tenure.
Clearly, competitiveness is born out of delivering product or service with low costs.
It is important that systems are both effective and combined with a low consumption of time and resources. It is only this competitive advantage that provides security of tenure to the organisation.
There are many approaches to the establishing slick and low cost activities, in manufacturing there is a whole field called Lean Manufacturing which focusses upon the removal of waste, the absolute reduction in the costs and time expended in necessary but unproductive work, and then the optimisation of activities focussed upon productive work.
These techniques are spilling into wider application through the advent of programs like the Lean Office which targets service and process organisations.
“Lean” is not a program as such, it is just a collection of tools; the appropriate choice and application of which will be obvious to any organisation that employs objective and rational measures.
A restaurant owner who knows it costs $100 to place an order on a supplier and receive the goods, also knows they need to focus on their admin and purchasing costs as a matter of urgency.
What is common to all Lean programs is the concept of continuous improvement.
This is the idea that change is not something to be got through, but something that is a constant companion. One change feeds into the next, improvement never ends; it is inherent in the design of the system.
An adaptive system, designed to change to reflect the changing demands upon the organisation.
In many corporate systems stability is valued more highly than change; change is considered destabilising.
Just like the difference between a tricycle and a bicycle; the tricycle, although stable, is much less efficient than the bicycle. The bicycle instead relies upon dynamic stability- constant small and timely adjustments to provide its stability.
The bicycle exchanges the cost of static stability for the price of maintaining a system of fast feedback and timely adjustments; the exchange is deeply in its favour.
The conventional organisational form of "hierarchical Command-and-Control, reliant upon Compliance-and-Conformance", is deeply dependent upon rigidity and simplification.
This is the tricycle model of stability.
There are however, many organisations out there in the world today that have solved the challenge and developed systems based upon fast feedback and timely adjustments- the bicycle model- and are reaping the rewards they provide.
Many “tricycle type” organisations believe that they can simply speed up their “steering” function to provide themselves with the dynamic stability of those bicycle type organisations they suddenly find themselves competing with.
But this is to misunderstand the mechanisms of their competitors.
Their competitors have a “whole wheel” less than them.
The ability to remove a wheel of a tricycle is not simply a matter of improving the steering. What is important to understand is that the “bicycle system” is designed to do more with less; to take advantage of change and instability, and at the same time shed more than 1/3 of its weight.
The bicycle system is based upon change and instability; it does more than simply endure it.
But there is even more advantage to it.
The bicycle has the ability to react to the world outside quicker and more appropriately than the tricycle, this makes the bicycle more agile.
So it is with organisations, adaptive systems allow the organisation to quickly respond to changes in their market- to respond to subtle shifts in the flow of economic resources along the conduit upon which they are positioned.
One of the prime characteristics of dynamic stability is a feature called “alignment”.
This is where the “actors” within the organisation have aligned their goals and activities with the goals of the organisation as a whole, as well as the demands of their customers.
This alignment is not a matter of wearing the same uniform or pledging loyalty, this is about coordinating activity from the bottom up.
Think not of a disciplined army battalion acting as a single entity in a pre-determined way, but rather a flock of birds wheeling and turning in unison.
Systems that create these sophisticated co-ordinated behaviours are underwritten by surprisingly simple algorithms (rules that underwrite decision making); this is the key point in the design of adaptive systems; their form is deceptively simple but the results are a sophisticated co-ordination.
Subjective behaviour shaping standards.
It is understandable that such a rational and objective system may be considered an attempt to banish subjectivity; far from it, instead its aim is to bound subjectivity to those areas where it is valuable.
A bit like using ketchup; it’s great, but not on everything.
It is important to see that in moving from a system of irrational, subjective measures to one of rational, objective ones, the habits of the old system must be simultaneously dropped.
Irrational subjective measures are necessarily balanced and reconciled within the psyche, the idea behind a system of rational and objective measures is to free up the psyche from having to “second guess” the reactions of subordinates and superiors.
The aim is not to make work a cold and clinical process, but rather to free up the psyche so it can be engaged in rather more constructive and productive endeavours than second guessing others.
This process tends to amplify individual difference rather than supress it.
Jobs become an opportunity to be self-expressed, people bring passion to work with them.
There is a problem with this however, passion can be addictive and at times overwhelm rational and objective thought.
Mistakes are made.
A system must be designed to accommodate mistakes and limit the liability of any single mistake.
But of greater import is the behavioural impact upon freedom of expression; without the imposed censorship of the hierarchy or fully developed self-censorship, then inappropriate behaviours can emerge; bullying for example.
Thus, any bottom-up system must have constraints upon, and limits to, acceptable behaviour.
So, in the newly rationalised restaurant, a waitress decides upon a cunning plan to improve tips. She knows SEX SELLS, and in her enthusiasm decides “topless” is the way to go.
She has stepped over a behavioural line neither the other waitresses, nor their patrons, have agreed to.
Rational and objective systems have people in them, people are inherently subjective (and that’s good). Rational and objective systems need agreed subjective standards to bound behaviours.
The purpose of this hack (applying objective and rational measures) is to demonstrate that the behaviour of individuals is shaped by the measures set on them.
Behaviours produce results, for good or bad; when behaviours are constrained by carefully crafted measures, the results will be success.
Whatever gets measured, gets optimised.
Pearson's Law: "That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially." - Karl Pearson
This may give the impression that the more you measure the better. But measures COST money; a multiplicity of measures has the impact of dividing attention, the cost of the measures escalates yet the impact of each measure upon behaviour diminishes. There is a reason why car dashboards are kept simple; more measures are not better.
You must determine which measures are important, and the results must be given to those who can influence them.
If you think about a plane, a train, a car, and a bicycle; they have different dash boards with emphasis on different measures. It must be expected that the sensible measures for your organisation are going to be quite specific to it. There is not just one simple set of measures to suit all, and emphasis given to each is the same for all organisations.
It’s up to you to choose the appropriate measures, you must be confident that your measures capture the variables that predict success for your organisation.
In most cases, there this will not be a single measure; it will be a combination of measures.
The challenge is to identify an interconnected group of measures that either directly or indirectly account for all the variables that predict success. It is essential that every significant variable is accommodated; each variable will not necessarily need a measure of its own, as long as it is bounded somewhere within your system of measures.
Synthesis and Analysis.
Analysis is the process of breaking a problem down into its component parts, synthesis is the skill of putting components together into a whole.
First, the variables that influence success must be identified, appropriate measures devised, finally the measures must be synthesised into a coherent whole. Any measure that is captured or implied within another measure can be left out, as can any measure that directly and predictably influences another.
The established coherent, rational and interlocking measures form a network, it is the primary mechanism for behaviour shaping.
How do measures shape behaviour?
Pearson’s law is correct, everything you measure does tend to improve. With a restricted set of measures, focus is concentrated on the variables that produce success, if the measures form a complete and coherent network then organisation success will follow. Like any “net”, it is designed to be full of holes (you don’t need to measure everything), but the holes must not be so large that it fails to constrain the system.
Measures have the impact of aligning behaviours; that’s not to say that behaviours will be identical but that they will all be aimed at pursuing the same objectives; they may be the same, or though different they may fit together to fulfil the wider objective.
This hack is not aimed at a particular problem or knot in the ball of string that represents organisations, but rather provides a systematic approach to dealing with all knots.
A real experience.
I’ll provide an example where measures were redesigned and an improvement in success occurred. The example reveals that at the heart of an existing system was a hidden mismatch in the “alignment” of the stakeholders, this misalignment was the cause of a persistent problem.
We paid overtime, the hours spent at work were an objective measure; pay was based upon this measure and it also had an impact on the delivery of our projects.
From the project manager’s point of view, overtime was used to bring tardy projects back on track; from the operator’s point of view, overtime was their only opportunity to earn badly needed extra cash, from the organisations point of view overtime was an additional cost.
The motivation for overtime for the project manager, the operator and the organisation were not aligned, they were actually at odds.
A rational and aligned system would use measures that simultaneously pursued common interests, one that rewarded project timeliness and productivity; not the recovery from tardiness.
A rational system would have everyone vigilant for the causes of tardiness, flexing behaviours to prevent tardiness, ultimately meeting the project demands.
Upon reflection, this is all pretty obvious. So why did we spend decades operating the traditional overtime system that didn’t really work for us?
Exposing the conflicts hidden deep in existing systems is quite difficult because the system will have become so familiar, so much part of the fabric of “the way things are done” that it will have become pretty invisible.
This situation is not helped that the mismatch is hidden under language designed to hide it. The operator never declares his interest in tardy projects as a source of extra cash, but instead always promotes his willingness to contribute to recovering tardy projects via overtime.
An important reflection here is that typical of broken systems, they are often in place to resolve the symptoms of a problem rather than address its cause.
Overtime fixed tardiness, it went no way to address the causes of tardiness, indeed it could be argued that it encouraged tardiness as a way to perpetuate itself.
A helpful approach is to start with the symptoms and track back to the cause. Symptoms always show up in the QDP&C (Quality, Delivery, Profit and Compliance) measures, so start there.
Ask yourself questions: try using the 5 whys tool in Lean.
This is a tool where you pose the question why of a problem, then, again you ask why of your answer. You repeat this 5 times.
The aim is to really drill into the problem in search of its root cause rather than simply addressing its symptoms. The principal is that it is better to avoid the problem in future than find ways to live with the symptoms.
Focus on those problems that never seem to go away. What measures are used in those areas; what are your assumptions when you reflect upon those measures?
Often, the “5 whys” tool will lead well away from where the symptoms are, it will move away from the “immediate and obvious” in pursuit of the root cause, often into areas which are the jurisdiction of others.
Persistent problems will most often be inter-departmental or inter-functional rather than lie totally within your function.
So it was in our example, overtime was a policy set by HR and administered by the payroll department, yet the problems show up for the project managers. This cross department feature is the primary reason why this problem persisted, not because individual functional managers were ignoring it, rather it crossed boundaries out of the jurisdiction of a single manager.
The best way to overcome these sorts of issues is to pilot an experiment or trawl data to provide evidence that there is a problem, bring together the managers who are departmentally responsible and lobby for an experimental pilot to explore alternative, rational systems. Addressing these problems is a collaborative exercise.
We had evidence of our overtime problem, we did some analysis and several small, cheap experiments which gave results that conflicted with our assumptions and forced us to review what was actually happening. For example, we determined that there was no statistical relationship between output levels and overtime worked.
And the results of our review… the tests MUST have been flawed!
On reflection, we did several experiments pursuing the same questions because we were so resistant to letting go of how we thought things worked around here; we believed that we needed the overtime system otherwise our projects would be late.
When we came up with a challenging answer we would blame the experiment rather than question our assumptions.
We are only human.
Eventually, almost grudgingly, we piloted an alternative program of reward; replacing overtime with a system of reward based upon program compliance (carefully designed to reward the individuals to an identical extent as they had been enjoying through the overtime system).
After some initial resistance, productivity climbed until all our projects came in on time and this was eventually achieved within the normal working week. Nothing else had changed except the measures, we did not add new rewards, we simply re-focussed the existing reward.
The success did not stop there, we grasped the initiative and increased the scope of the project to include a program aimed at reducing our project lead times as well as the duration of our projects in pursuit of both higher profitability and increased pressure on our competitors.
The result was productivity climbed further, the reward system increased operator pay without them having to increase their working hours and the organisation improved both its profitability and market share.
The problems faced when implementing change are always the same; people.
People adapt to their environment, so persistent problems point to either existing measures holding inappropriate behaviour in place or “vested interests” doing the same.
The conflicting measures above are clear enough, but what about those vested interests?
For example, a proposed change may save $100,000 a year in Production, but may cost the Accounts department an extra $20,000 a year. The Accounts department may have greater departmental authority which they may exercise to effectively block the change.
Another cultural example is “better the devil you know”.
Returning to our overtime example, the operators may be happier to remain with the overtime measure because they know how it works and understand how to influence it; they may rely upon it at times of the year like Xmas when they need the extra money. There will be a lot of resistance to give up a system when they are not sure if they will be winners or losers in an alternative system.
Simply put, resistance to change is dominant when the consequences of the change are not clear; will I be a loser? Who will gain? There is nothing wrong with “the way it is”.
We were at pains not to reduce the income that individual operators would enjoy as a result of our change program.
In time, as the reward system moved away from “schedule slip and overtime hours” in favour of “keeping the project on track”, we were able to maintain that momentum leading on to an additional “early delivery” bonus.
This allowed us to quote shorter lead times to our customers and fit more projects in per year. This generated more than enough cash to pay the extra “early delivery” bonus.
Actually, productivity rose beyond all expectation.
Before any change program is considered, there needs to be a proper review of the impact of such change from the perspective of all the stakeholders.
I have seen MANY Lean programs fail when the impact of increased productivity has not been properly considered from the operator’s point of view. With fixed customer contracts and increased productivity, the only way to deliver the promised savings of the program is either to reduce labour pay rates or cut heads, or both. This implication is not lost on the operators.
Resistance to the program is in their best interest. Why would management fail to appreciate that?
Choose a persistent problem; use the Lean tool (mentioned previously) and ask the 5 whys: see where this takes you.
If it takes you into areas you are not comfortable being, choose another problem.
Most managers are not short of problems to choose from!
The challenge is to identify a problem that is formative enough to be significant and the root cause of which you are comfortable embracing.
Now you have a problem
Design a strategy and explore the status quo, identify the existing measures, formulate new measures, watch behaviours, confirm assumptions: collect data.
Douglas Adams, the man who wrote Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy coined a wonderful phrase that I find useful in these circumstances: “clearly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty”.
The phrase is useful as I find it reminds me to divide problems into those areas I understand and are confident about and those areas where there is doubt and uncertainty.
Where there is doubt and uncertainty, focus your exploration, analysis and experiments.
Carve those areas into chunks on which you can directly raise data, and start experimenting. Become master of these doubtful and uncertain areas as this is the sectret of turning a risky project into one that delivers on time, in budget and gives the results you expect… with little or no stress.
Once you understand the problem properly formulate a solution. Don't jump to conclude- this is a mistake. Be brave enough to stay in the investigation until you are sure every piece of your evidence fits into and supports your solution.
I have "role played" schemes before with lego toys and post it notes to simulate the processes, it was very difficult to engage my colleagues in this; BUT it highlighted a hidden problem. It averted disaster and I was able to modify the scheme prior to launching it for real.
Time to put it in place.
Always pilot on as small a scale as possible, and ideally with people who can be characterised as "first adopters". If there are no hitches then great, if there are hitches then these folks will help to resolve them.
Watch out for vested interests undermining the pilot- in organisations with very political cultures it happens.
Dont wing it, this is not a time for "positive mental attitude" it is a time for absolute realism. Always assume this has defeated other before you because they jumped in without due consideration- be better than that.
Take one success and build upon it with another. Always explore a few steps ahead of your program of activity and choose to tackle problems that are complimentary; that way your successes build into a larger program where each success amplifies the benefits of the previous ones.
If explored and planned well, it will be like pushing on an open door.
If it’s not, go back to your understanding of the problem; there is a shortcoming.