Picture this. You’re in a meeting to discuss a particular operating problem you need to solve. The group discusses several possible solutions, and finally settles on the one that seems most likely to succeed. Then the leader of the group says, “Good work gang! I think we’re on the right track here,” and adjourns the meeting. Huh? Where’s the implementation part of this solution? Who’s going to do what and by when? And how are we going to track our progress so that this solution doesn’t get sidetracked and forgotten? Unfortunately, too many good ideas are lost or forgotten because our action plans are either non-existent, or they lack follow-up and follow-through. In short, they lack accountability. If this is a problem for you, please continue reading below.
“It’s important to have a sound idea, but the really important thing is the implementation.”
~ Wilbur Ross
Charles Kettering was an American inventor, engineer, the holder of 186 patents, and the founder of Delco. He once said, “A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved.” But we can’t be content with a half-solved problem. We need to finish the job with a well-implemented action plan. So why don’t we? What’s getting in our way? There could be a number of obstacles, but there are principally three:
- The problem we’re trying to solve is scary and dangerous. No one wants to step up and take responsibility for its solution.
- Implementing our solution to the problem is going to take a lot of work, and everyone has a plate that’s already overflowing with their regular, daily responsibilities.
- No one believes the leader is truly committed to solving this problem. By tomorrow, he or she will have completely forgotten about it and will have moved on to something else.
Fundamentally, this is a leadership issue. Too often, people in leadership positions assume that once we’ve figured out a solution to a problem, implementing the solution will be automatic . . . everybody knows what to do, so they’ll just go ahead and do it. Clearly, that’s not the case.
So before we adjourn the meeting, we need to look at our proposed solution and break it down into its component parts and develop action plans for each . . . Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, etc. This is particularly important if the problem were trying to solve is the big, complex, scary variety. Breaking it down into a series of small action steps makes it less complex and less scary.
Next we need to develop a timeline . . . deadlines for each of our action steps. In some cases, we’ll have the luxury of creating our own timetable, but in others, a timetable will be imposed on us by outside forces (competitive issues, government regulations, etc.).
Then we need to figure out what resources we’ll need to implement our solution within the time constraints we’ve established. Is this a one-person job or will it require a team of people? Will we need equipment or materials beyond what is normally available? Do we need to establish a budget for it? Can we fund our solution internally, or do we need to find outside financing for it?
We’ll need tracking mechanisms of some kind to make sure everything is going as planned, on time and on budget. If our time frame is relatively short, we may only need to make sure that each action step is being completed on time. But if our solution is complex and will unfold over a longer period of time, we may need additional information to give us early warning if the implementation of our solution is starting to leave the rails.
Finally, we need to assign responsibility for overseeing the entire project. Who will lead the charge? When a team of people is involved, each member of the team can be responsible for his or her piece of the puzzle, but still, someone has to be accountable for the overall outcome the team is expected to achieve. Who will that be?
Now we can adjourn the meeting.
Obviously, for small, incidental problems, we can shortcut or eliminate some of these problem-solving steps. But for solutions to our big, important, complex problems, sticking with a well-defined implementation process will pay big dividends. And for implementing the solutions to all problems, big and small, be guided by Ronald Reagan’s, “Trust but verify.” When you trust but fail to verify, the people implementing the solution to a problem will assume you’ve forgotten about it, and they will too.