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Doing Hard Things

My powerlifting coach recently changed up my program. Suddenly, I’m faced with whole new movements that my body now needs to adapt to. …and let me tell you, my first sessions were messy. Limbs flaying about, in places they shouldn’t be. – I was developing the new neural pathways that come through practice and repetition. Only then could I turn up the intensity, else I’d risk injury.

Yet over the last month I’ve spoken to a least 5 different organisations that are staring down the barrel of large, complex transformations. …and no one in their organisation had led something like that before. To their credit, some acknowledge this. But some don’t – adopting the classic ‘She’ll be right, mate’ Australian motto.

For context here, the hardest change is something with

  • high intensity (work vs time),
  • high complexity (interactions & scale),
  • high unfamiliarity (new-ness),
  • high constraint (money, deadlines, existing systems),
  • inadequate processes (a lack of tried and tested ways of working), and
  • high intimidation (potential impact to job security).

The larger your change is, the more likely you’re meeting more of these criteria. Transformations almost always meet them all.

So how do you do hard things?

Well you engage me to guide you through it! Ha, but let’s say you can’t do that. Here’s something you can start with instead:

Strictly focus on your WHY & definition of success to actively minimise the amount of work you’re doing. The idea is that you’re looking to move back down the size/clarity curve (below)

Then accept that you’re going to get it wrong more often at the start. There will be teething issues, so if you can avoid it, don’t eat the frog first. Leave the boulders alone for the moment. Build the systems, then stress test them with a little ‘small-stone’ initial momentum first. Get the transformational exercise muscles comfortable sitting in their new positions.

A Few Quick Takeaways:

  • Avoid letting the cargo trains hold up the express lane (dedicate capacity to small, simple work that has no business being held up by that large 18month financial system replacement) – else people brand your area as being ‘slow and inefficient’.
  • Templates have a place – they are good at capturing but poor at exploring ideas and alternatives. They don’t prompt thinking, that happens during collaboration on a whiteboard.
  • When teams see uncertainty addressed and acknowledged, as opposed to being ignored, they are more likely to relax. The tone shifts from “what are they hiding” to “ok, at least they’re being honest”.
  • When you’re making decisions at the point of arrogance (the beginning of your project) – don’t assume you’re right. Assume you’re wrong and build in guidance systems accordingly.

Food for Thought

Hard things are done by choosing the right next challenge, not leaping off the cliff and hoping you’ll fly.

Are you consciously building capability by incrementally raising difficultly?

Brendon Baker

Brendon is a leading expert in strategic framing and inside-out change. He has led and guided over $11 Billion in transformative projects and programs, from transformations to teddy bears. He is the author of the best-seller Valuable Change, and niche top seller Creating High Value PMOs. Brendon now spends his time helping leaders cut through the noise to focus on what matters; working with them to create new realities.

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