How to Get Unstuck
Categories: Getting Unstuck
“You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.” ~Edwin Louis Cole
In my last post, I wrote about what happens when initiatives become “stuck.” Challenges and obstacles to implementation are a regular and expected occurrence in any change initiative. They become problematic, however, when the attending change agent doesn’t have a plan he or she believes in, or even an idea, of how to solve the problem.
There is a framework practitioners can use to determine how to get unstuck, regardless of the nature of the desired outcome, or the implementation approach used (Kotter, Bridges, Anderson, Prosci, Conner, etc.), or the specific actions they call into play. This post provides a way to look at a generic intervention process and how to apply it to any change or execution methodology.
Patterns Are Important—Pay Close Attention to Them
In a previous series on patterns, I wrote about the set of fundamental dynamics for implementing change that runs beneath all initiatives and practitioner approaches. Blockages of a stuck initiative can only be addressed properly at this level. These dynamics cluster into certain patterns of behaviors and mindsets. Some of these patterns are associated with change success, while others are linked to failure. How the patterns play out in a particular change initiative can be ascertained by using one or more “lenses” to observe and interpret what is going on. We can select the correct lenses by listening carefully to and observing the symptoms of being stuck.
Before Intervening, Know the Situation
The situation is the specific setting in which practitioners intervene. Because situations can be large or small, strategic or tactical, the intervention sequence I’m about to describe can play out at many levels. In addition, I make two critical assumptions about the situations in which we change facilitators are involved. The first is that we are there in service to and in partnership with the person or group with whom we are working. We are not there to impose our will on them or to act as a “pair of hands,” merely doing as we are told. This means that as we apply the sequence, we work with our client and others involved, rather than for them. The second assumption is that the joint goal for the client and us as practitioners is full achievement of the true purpose behind the initiative. This helps us focus on the things that are most important, both for the organization and for the individuals involved.
Intervention Is a Four-Step Process—Observe, Interpret, Plan, Influence
To properly intervene, we must first observe a situation to determine whether sufficient progress is being made toward desired outcomes or whether something has become stuck. If we can observe symptoms of being stuck, we can then try out various “lenses” (interpret) until one or a combination of them bring some clarity as to what patterns (behaviors and/or mindset) might have contributed to the initiative becoming stuck. When considered as they are intended to be used, these same patterns are also key to creating a plan for mitigating the “stuckness.” Executing against that plan is how the situation is influenced.
So, to summarize, practitioners observe symptoms that can be interpreted through the appropriate lenses, which, in turn, allows them to plan how they’ll use patterns to influence and hopefully promote a positive shift within the underlying dynamics.
Symptoms > Lens > Patterns of Behaviors and Mindsets
Successful Interventions Help Clients Reach Their Goals
The intervention sequence presented here is designed to help you become more conscious of the process you use when working to unstick an initiative (i.e., influence people and situations so they can deliver the desired outcomes). It outlines a general set of steps—observe, interpret, plan, influence—used across a wide range of settings and found in virtually all approaches to change. The steps in the sequence are applied by using:
Whatever approach to implementation you are most comfortable with, it can be thought of as a road map that leads you through a multitude of situations calling for the intervention sequence. Your approach offers concepts, models, tools, and other resources to help you observe the situation clearly, suggest lenses and patterns that are useful in interpreting the situation, provides input to the planning process, and furnishes guidance on the most effective ways to influence situations to increase the likelihood of a successful intervention. By being mindful of this process, we increase our chances of helping clients accomplish their intended outcomes.
Are You Stuck?
Categories: Getting Unstuck
“Most obstacles are imaginary; the rest are only temporary.” ~Scott Sorrel
We all get stuck sometimes…it’s part of the human experience. We know what we want to achieve and have a plan for doing it, but suddenly we’re faced with a challenge that mystifies us. The situation may involve a problem or opportunity, but the fact is, we don’t know how to resolve it given the present circumstances (or aren’t willing to because of certain implications). In other words, becoming unstuck isn’t about problems/opportunities—it’s about problems/opportunities with no clear way to address them.
There are as many ways to be stuck as there are aspects to our lives. We can become stuck with our spouse or kids, our friends, our careers or boss, our physical well-being, our spiritual development, etc. Anything of significance that we set out to accomplish can, and most likely will, become stuck at one time or another.
Professional change facilitators are not immune to being stuck. From time to time, even the most accomplished practitioners, applying the most capable execution methodologies, are unable to find a viable resolution to a particular implementation problem/opportunity. When this happens, it doesn’t mean the blockage is insurmountable or that our methodologies have failed us. Being stuck is usually a signal that we need to stop and recalibrate whatever approach we’re using…continuing the path we’re on is unlikely to release the obstruction.
A change initiative becomes stuck when an important aspect of the implementation process loses direction and/or momentum toward its intended result, and there is no confidence that a viable mitigation plan is in place. That’s a mouthful, so let me break it down into its six main points:
There aren’t any negative connotations to being stuck, provided we address the blockage in an effective and timely manner. Our role in becoming unstuck involves the following:
Unfortunately, initiatives that remain stuck contribute to 70% of change endeavors falling short of their stated goals. Our role is to address these kinds of obstructions when they occur. Given how pervasive and damaging being stuck can be, it is important that we share as much with each other as we can about what’s been learned and what we’re doing to deal with it.
Here are some of my perspectives on being stuck. I encourage you to join in with your observations.
Recognize when progress has stopped or slowed
A “stuck” situation has three components:
A project may become stuck at the initiative or the practitioner level
Correctly diagnose what’s contributing to being stuck
Several factors may contribute to a loss of direction or momentum at the initiative level:
Initiatives routinely become stuck, but these situations become problematic only when the practitioner doesn’t know what to resolve the issue. It is important, then, for practitioners to watch for the warning signs of being stuck:
- Reasons practitioners fail to communicate:
Take action to start moving forward again
An initiative will inevitably become stuck during major transitions. Therefore, the heart of the change facilitator’s reason for being is to address these inhibitors to progress.
Change agents don’t unstick initiatives themselves, they facilitate the appropriate people in doing it. They surface the information needed for people to make informed decisions about the actions necessary to become unstuck. This is done by determining what’s missing (not said) that would foster initiative success and either encourage others to communicate the message to the appropriate person(s) or communicate it themselves.
Seldom is a situation too stuck to be resolved, although practitioners may decide that “it’s just not worth it” (which is fine as long as this is openly communicated to the appropriate person[s]).
Remember, if you’re stuck, you’re in good company. Every seasoned practitioner has, at times, been unable to deal with a particular implementation problem. Address the blockage quickly and effectively by recognizing the problem, diagnosing the contributing factors, and engaging the proper mitigating action.
I recently conducted a one-hour webinar to help two “stuck” practitioners diagnose an implementation problem and decide on a mitigation plan. You can access the recording by clicking on The Front Lines of Change icon in the sidebar.