Friday, 31 May 2013

Business learning from walking: 3. Never fear turning back or retracing your steps

I learnt an important lesson last week when walking on the Isle of Wight. Well, I learnt many lessons, but one of them was that sometimes it's easier to turn back and retrace your steps, than to go into unplanned territory.

We'd walked for a hour or so, it was hilly and we'd just headed down a steep hill that was so steep in places there were steps. Popping out between the hedges we realised something was wrong. After much deliberating and map checking, we had two options:( a) take a new, unplanned path that would get us back to where we wanted to be that was longer, less scenic and involved riskier road walking, or (b) hike the half mile back to the last decision point, even if it mean a steep 200ft climb back up the hill. After some whimpering and puffing from me, we got back on our planned track.

All change projects reach dead ends or go off track - often due to enthusiasm for trying new ideas. It's important to keep the goals in  mind and to assess any difficult situations. In my experience we tend not to have the courage to go back a few project steps and start again. Instead we blunder on and end up taking a longer and more tortuous route to get to where we need to be.  In future, I'll be asking more questions and keeping in mind the possibility of going backwards to go forwards.

Part of knowing when to turn back and when to go on is an important skill, and this is covered in the next post in this series.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Business learning from walking: 2. Knowing where you are is more important than knowing where you are going

Picture from
It's a truth that you have to start where you are. Whether it's starting a walk along a trail or a new change initiative to streamline the repeat prescribing process, you begin where you are - not where you think you are.  Anyone who has run a process mapping event will know that participants love to create maps and plans about what they want to happen, where they want to be. Focusing on the reality of what actually happens seems far more difficult. It's fairly boring too. To start your walk you need to be able to place your finger on the map and say "We are here". To start a change program you need to be able to use all the data you have to state your current position.

Would you start walking a linear trail, like the Thames Path or Hadrian's Wall, without knowing where you are starting from and whether you are at the place you expected to be?  I may decide to start walking the Thames path but if my actual start point is 8 miles from the predicted start point, then it's goign to be a very long day and probably one with many disappointments.

After you've started moving, you need to keep track of where you are. In business we do this by measuring our progress. These measurements need to be close in time to the actions and decisions. If I walked a route saying I would check the map at every hour on the hour (monthly reporting?) then I could quite easily waste time and energy by going in the wrong direction.  Every decision point needs a check between plan and actual progress.

I can talk a lot about where I want to end up with my walks, as Many talk a lot about what the results fo their change program will be. But in the end, those results and goals are dependent on a system and practice of knowing where you are, at any point along the way.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Business learning from walking: 1. The plan is not the event

Picture from
Advice is never to leave for a walking adventure without a map and compass – and a sandwich, drink and set of waterproofs is also a good idea.  In business we have our plan as our map. But just as the map we read and mark while sitting in the comfort of our warm and dry home, the plan we create in our offices is never going to be what actually happens.

 A tree may have fallen across the path – a barrier to change is discovered that the plan didn't take into account.  Someone twists an ankle – a key staff member goes off on long term sickness. It snows – a new directive from on high impacts the organisational plan

Never set out without a plan, but never assume that having spent hours (or days, weeks, months) on the plan that the event is now sorted. The plan is prework. No imagining beforehand can take the place of an actual walk under the trees, beside the sea or over a field. Similarly, no amount of planning can predict the actual path and experience that any organisational change will take.