Criteria for implementing initiatives in a complex space

Posted by Shawn Callahan - May 16, 2008
Filed in Culture, Insight

Dave’s written a excellent post on how to make progress in a complex environment. It’s excellent because it comes at a time when I’m working with a client where their staff have come up with a range of initiatives yet there is a feeling among some of the project members that the initiatives wont make a difference—they are not clear winners.

In hindsight, I should have made my approach clearer to my client and said that we create a process for the client to work things out for themselves and that I don’t have the answers. I suspect they’re used to the highly controlled and ‘expert’ facilitator who leads the group to a conclusion that is mostly pre-determined. But I didn’t do that. I used a combination of narrative techniques, open space and world cafe approaches so the business folk worked out their own way forward.

Mind you there’s a spectrum here. I have insights to share. I’ve seen many other organisations and their initiatives but I know the context will be different and a tremendous success in one organisation might go nowhere in another. But they are still possible patterns for experimentation. I need to work on other ways to share these ideas and experiences.

I liked Dave’s tests for whether an initiative should be tried. To paraphrase:

  1. If the proposed initiative fits in with things that have happened before and what might happen in the future, give it a go
  2. If a failure in unlikely to be overly costly and there are things to learn, give it go

I’d like to add another criteria,

  1. If people in the organisation are taking responsibility for making it happen, give it go

Failure is scary for organisations. But without a safe-fail culture new ideas and new opportunities will never stick.

About Shawn Callahan
Shawn is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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