November & December theme:
“Choose One Thing”
Posted in :  Choose One Thing

This post is part four of a six-part series titled, “Choose One Thing” publishing in November and December 2013. If you’re like most businesses we know, you have that “one thing” from the past year that is still hanging in the air — it’s the one priority that, among all the others, would make the biggest impact on your business if it were fully realized. It could be competing in a new space or gaining more business from current customers. During this six-part series we’ll share the most common challenges we see among clients. If one of them is yours, let’s talk. We can help you turn your one big challenge into your biggest success for 2014.

We are all so busy at work with our day-to-day job that when a new urgent project comes along, especially one that is in addition to our normal work, it gets done when we can get to it. It becomes the thing we have to do instead of the thing we want to do. If it is a project that is incremental in nature, or tactically aligned with your other work, this level of attention can suffice to pull it off. However, when the project you’re undertaking is break-through in nature, meaning that the nature of the project lies far outside of your day-to-day work and is designed to break orbit from your organizations center of gravity, this level of engagement will result in failure, and all of the associated side-effects. After enough failures, a culture of “Innovation Cynicism” will build until the organization itself fears trying new things. “We tried that kind of thing more than once, and it failed, so we won’t do that again.”

From our experience, accountability for that failure lies squarely with the project’s executive sponsor and is a direct result of the “space” required for the project to be successful never effectively being created, or once created was never defended. Space is the room for a breakthrough project to exist and thrive inside of an already busy organization. It includes space in time, budget, attention, team, resources, communication and most importantly space in the team’s gut, heart and mind. If you can create space in the gut, hearts and minds of the team, the rest will take care of itself. The good news for executive sponsors is you don’t have to create this space alone.

At Fathom, almost all of the work we do is breakthrough. We are hired to grow organizations by helping them find their story and live their story. The story being the transformation an organization needs to undergo to ensure success in a changing world. As you can imagine, this work lies well outside the day-to-day activities of our clients. When undertaking our work, one of the first things we do is develop an understanding of what we are undertaking and why.

We ask our executive sponsor to share with us why this project is important for the organization, but also for them personally. How do they feel about it (gut), why do they care about it (heart) and what makes logical sense for them (head)? What personal and professional opportunities does this project offer them? From this, we then develop the most effective way to communicate the meaningfulness of the project to the rest of the team. Using that communication as a framework to invite all of the team members (including ours) to share each of our own insights about what the project means to us.

The resulting composite story becomes the way the project is communicated out to the organization, and the reason why defensible “space” is created for it to exist. As the project progresses, this story unfolds to capture the journey, reinforce why the project is important and what it means to the organization and the team involved with it. The story’s continual telling allows “space” to be defended and sustained through the successful completion of the project. The “space” becomes personally and professionally meaningful, and when something means something to us, we spend time on it because we want to.

Is your organization is experiencing “Innovation Cynicism” or do you see patterns of breakthrough project avoidance? If overcoming innovation cynicism is critical to your business in 2014, now is the time to discuss how to create and sustain meaningful “space” for success to manifest.

Other posts in the “Choose One Thing” series can be found here.

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Posted by: Brent Robertson
Email the author: brentr@fathom.net