In athletics, we are all familiar with the slogan “Just Do It.” Catchy, impactful, short and to the point. It inspires and makes us all want to do something. NOW. That’s a good thing for starting an exercise program, but such haste is not the best way to manage change in a business or institution.
Too many managers have embraced a “Just Do It” attitude to any and all changes within their responsibility. Clearly, some improvements or changes can and should be done immediately, but does doing it now, however motivational, really make sense in all cases?
In order to answer that question, we need to start with business process. There are many definitions of process but the one I prefer is:
A collection of related, structured activities or tasks that produce a specific objective, outcome, product
or service—regardless of where that activity is performed.
The implication of this definition is that activities are cross-functional in nature and that they work together to produce the desired outcome.
With that in mind, let’s get back to that manager who wants to do it now. Typically, change starts when there is awareness that things can be improved. Something within a manager’s area of responsibility is causing pain to her employees. Few managers are incented to consider what happens beyond the wall of his or her business unit or function. A manager who asks the questions, “How do I make this process better?” and “When can we do it?” is generally focusing on her immediate realm of responsibility. The second question, in particular, is structured to elicit a commitment of ASAP and to show action on her part.
What if, instead, she first asks the question, “Should we do this?” To leave the question open-ended initiates the right discussion regarding the impacts of the proposed change both within one’s function and beyond. Discussing impacts of a process—remembering that a process is cross-functional in nature—should lead you both upstream and downstream your area of responsibility.
Making Change Last
To reiterate, if one wants to take up jogging or stop smoking, by all means “Just Do It.” But institutional change involves a web of interdependencies that must be carefully considered and managed. An attitude of immediacy is appealing and can be inspiring. But in the end, starting with the right questions is the only sure way to get to the right answers.