Creating Breakthroughs

If all organizations were producing breakthroughs, we would be enjoying exponential increases in results. Did you know that creating such breakthroughs often requires a different focus than when making modest improvements?

How can we replace our normal improvement projects with breakthrough progress?

Breakthroughs usually take the sweat and tears of many people. But those efforts won’t bear fruit unless the right mix of skills and experience is involved, properly directed by exceptional leaders and by the right thought process.

Let me put this advice in context: It’s an important lesson for those who want to make lots of 2,000 percent solutions (ways of accomplishing 20 times more with the same time, effort, and resources).

The steps for creating a 2,000 percent solution are listed here:

1. Understand the importance of measuring performance.

2. Decide what to measure.

3. Identify the future best practice and measure it.

4. Implement beyond the future best practice.

5. Describe the ideal best practice.

6. Pursue the ideal best practice.

7. Select the right people and provide the right motivation.

8. Repeat the first seven steps.

This article looks at practicing to become more effective in accomplishing step seven, select the right people and provide the right motivation.

Recruit and Coach a Winning Team

People are the critical resource for any organization. Without the right people, it’s hard to exceed the future best practice and approach the ideal best practice. Keep in mind that few people, no matter how talented, function well in a changing environment. Still fewer can work well on a team instituting changes. One unreasonable doubter can discourage a whole team. Someone who uses too much influence can stifle others. You’re looking to create a rare and delicate balance in your dream team of change makers.

Change? Over My Dead Body!

It might seem that the best way to implement any change is to work with those who know the job best — those who actually work with the process every day. But if big changes are needed, this approach isn’t always a good idea. Use only the old crew and you will probably run into a very serious foot-dragging stall. Even the best workers lose their perspective over time. Experimental evidence shows that people new to a job have a much easier time with understanding the need for and enjoying the pursuit of changes. They can be taught whatever history they need to know without being stalled by it. The current crew can play devil’s advocate — to keep the new team honest, as it were. But don’t hold their experience against the current crew. Provide them with a new challenge in another part of the organization where they are unfamiliar with the operations.

You need very capable relative strangers to take on a change project, but they don’t have to be people from outside the organization. Look for as wide a range of perspective, skills, and knowledge as you can.

Build a Dream Team

You must find people who are energized or excited by a change. Your ideal team members must see leading change as a challenge that will help them grow personally. Select team members who will feel that being chosen to work on approaching the ideal best practice is the most wonderful thing that ever happened to them.

Beyond enthusiasm, what do you need? Open-mindedness. Take a cue from Abraham Maslow and his concept of self-actualization: what a person can be, he or she must be (See Motivation and Personality [Harper, 1954]). Maslow characterized the self-actualized, among other characteristics, as displaying higher levels of:

• Efficient perceptions of reality

• Comfort with reality

• Accepting oneself, others, and nature

• Spontaneity

• Simplicity

• Naturalness

• Focus on problems outside themselves

• Detachment

• Preference for privacy

• Autonomy and independence from culture and environment

• Freshness of appreciation and richness of feeling

• Transcendent experience

• Identification with mankind

• Deep interpersonal relations

• Preference for democratic processes

• Ability to differentiate between means and ends

• Nonhostile humor

• Creativity, originality, or inventiveness.

Maslow also spotted significant drawbacks among some of the self-actualized who could be vain, annoying, cold, uncritical, and overgenerous. Obviously, you should seek team members who present the fewest of these drawbacks … even at the risk of losing some creativity.

Don’t be restricted to Maslow’s concept. People who can rapidly adapt to unexpected problems are even more valuable because they can point the group in a new direction when everyone else is stuck. You can spot these people with questions, asking them how they solved seemingly impossible problems in the past.

Is There a Leader in the House?

Naturally, choosing the right team leader makes a big difference in your results. Look for a leader who shares the enthusiasm of each team member and knows how to harness that enthusiasm. In addition, you want someone who places the interests of the team and the organization ahead of any desire to exercise power as top dog.

Avoid borrowing a leader from another organization (whether they be consultants or outsourced service providers). Such outsiders will have a harder time reflecting the values of those they lead. If you cannot find an appropriate leader in your organization, be sure to hire someone who will help create the excitement necessary to bring off major changes and who matches your company’s values as closely as possible.

Four leadership qualities are essential to success:

1. Shared values with the organization

2. Understanding the problems thoroughly before beginning the mission

3. Ability to persuade others that the project will succeed

4. Skills relevant to the task.

If your top candidate is in good shape except for skills, consider how you could use some training to fill in those gaps. It’s easier to fill in for ignorance than for a lack of values.

Copyright 2007 Donald W. Mitchell, All Rights Reserved