Saturday, 28 February 2009

Role modelling large scale change is tough

Sometimes getting the big stuff done means finding a way to manage the little stuff. I find when I’m trying to work on a big project, designing large scale change programs, developing spreading good practice interventions and other activities which require a complex set of activities, I am easily distracted from my leadership role unless I employ a few tactics.

I have been wondering whether one of the reasons large scale change doesn’t get implemented is because we may project our own disorganisation and unproductiveness onto the systems, processes and people who are intended to be part of that change. Namely, is there a large scale change we need to adopt ourselves before we can scale up any change process to teams, organisations and systems?

It’s all well and good saying the big things are the priority and therefore I should spend most of my time on them. However, no-one has told that to all other small requests, queries and information despatching that usually ends up in my email inbox.

Now I am very cautious about treating the small stuff as not important. It was Dame Anita Roddick who once said that “anyone who ever doubts that small things can have a big impact has never spent the night in a tent with a mosquito”. So I treat the “small stuff” with care. But how does this help with creating, managing and delivering on the big stuff and priority projects?

I employ a few specific tactics to keep me focused and on track. My consultancy role has me working at two polar opposites; virtually, attached to a computer, and face-to-face with clients. (There is a twilight world in between called “travel” but we’ll leave that for now.)

I am in charge of my computer. I am the head that organises how best to use it and I work hard not to let the computer-tail wag my dog.
- I aim to complete one task in the morning before I turn on the computer
- Then I complete one task, such as reviewing a document, before opening my email inbox
When I do open my email, I delete without opening anything where the subject line looks like the message has little to do with me, then I read them. If I can reply in 2 mins then I do so. If not I drag the mail to the tasks or calendar button in Outlook and allocate some other time to handle it.
- Then I get on with the priority tasks, which I may or may not have allocated time for…
- I allocate one hour a week, usually Fridays if I am in the office then, to a swift check around all my online team working systems.
So, before I can work on the big stuff I need to find a way to more productively manage the smaller stuff. This reminds me of the NHS Institute’s Productive Wards system where an investment in getting yourself, your ward, organised means you have more time to care (big stuff).

When face-to-face with other people, at a single or multiple day event, at meetings etc., my singular contribution is that of my presence. I know that physical presence needs to be combined with my emotional and intellectual presence.

- I aim not to take calls, look at or answer emails while I am F2F. (This did take about 6 months to wean myself off the habit as well as enable my email-senders to gain the trust that I do still value what they email and I will respond, fully and care-fully, when I can focus on them.)
- I avoid travelling with other people’s business to do. This means I am not preparing next week’s presentation for another client in the breaks between working with the F2F client. (This is a capacity / demand issue and I have employed the same techniques used in healthcare service delivery. It has been a tough learning curve).

My own experiences leave me with the feeling that practising and implementing some of the changes we require of others provides some salutary lessons. It’s hard to encourage role modelling as part of a change strategy unless you also see yourself as a role model. Maybe that is one of the toughest challenges about spreading good practice and implementing large scale change? Namely, we have to change ourselves before we can ask other to change themselves.

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