3 Steps to Hunt and Kill Sharks in the Waters of Change

Lawrence Polsky
Posted: 08/11/2011

One of the biggest surprises to me is that 99 percent of leaders I've encountered on five different continents have seen the movie JAWS!

The reality is that just like the shark in the movie, threats to your change program lurk undetected. Unless you go fishing for threats, and really try to understand them, you’ll end up with a change effort dead on arrival.

Here is what we do to hunt and kill sharks.

1. Scan the Ocean. Ask your team-- what attitudes, people, systems, and processes are out there than can threaten this change? Allow plenty of time to brainstorm and discuss all the possible threats. The added bonus of this step is that by listening and not challenging employees point of view, you create a forum to get concerns out and help create positive forward momentum.

2. Identify the Killers. The good news is that in reality, only 1 percent of all sharks species pose a threat to humans. The same is true with the issues listed. Only a small percentage of them really matter. Let the team tell you which are critical. We usually give each person five points. They can distribute them however they want: One point to five problems, all five to one problem, or anything in between. Count up the totals and see the top priorities.

3. Start Your Hunt. Starting with the top problems, give small groups or individuals the task of indentifying how to kill or cage the "shark." In essence, they indentify what needs to be done to stop this threat. They need to include the following:

  • Who needs to take action? Make sure employees include a variety of stakeholders, and not just senior management. One rule we use is that for every idea that senior management needs to take, you need to identify two that you can take.
  • What needs to be done? Outline in order of priority.
  • When does it need to be done? Include any sequencing here. For example, Step A needs to be done before Step B.

You can do this with any group or team. The group setting provides cover for individuals who are scared to bring up issues for fear of reprisal. Often threats to change are systems or processes that are untouchable. By working in groups, people can safely raise issues that they might not dare do one-on-one. This process always starts important discussions and if action is taken, will lead to the removal of barriers to change.

Lawrence Polsky
Posted: 08/11/2011

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