Securing Early Wins

While it is important to secure early wins, it is equally important to avoid early losses. Common causes of early losses include the following:

  • Failing to focus. This appears as having too many initiatives. Identify the moist promising opportunities and concentrate on them
  • Not taking the business situation into account. What constitutes an early win in one situation can be a waste of time in another. See the table above regarding examples for each type of situation.
  • Not adjusting for the culture. Leaders who come from outside the organization naturally assume their old culture is in existence. Be sure to understand what the organization considers a win.
  • Failing to get wins that matter to your boss. Addressing problems that your boss cares about will go a long way toward building credibility and cementing access to resources.
  • Letting your means undermine your ends. Process matters. The early win must be accomplished in a manner that exemplifies the behavior you hope to instill in the organization.

Studies show that successful change is implemented in “waves” with distinct phases. These phases include acclimatization, change, consolidation, and deeper learning so people can catch their breaths. What follow are deeper and more thorough structural changes. The final wave is focused on fine-tuning to maximize performance.

Each wave ought to consist of distinct phases.

  • Learning
  • Designing the changes
  • Building support
  • Implementing the changes
  • Observing results

The goal of the first wave of change is to secure early wins that build personal credibility, establish key relationships, and identify and harvest low-hanging fruits – the highest-potential opportunities for short-term improvements in organizational performance. These targets should be consistent with your A-item business priorities and introduce the new patterns of behaviors that you want to instill in the organization.

A-item priorities should

  • Follow naturally from core problems
  • Be neither too general nor too specific. They must include measures for overall success so that wins may be recognized. In other words establish S-M-A-R-T goals but not goals that result in micro-managing.
  • Offer clear direction yet allow for flexibility when you learn more about the situation. This is an iterative process. Be prepared to test, refine, and restate the goals.

To realize A-item priorities, it is imperative to eliminate dysfunctional behavior. To alter culture, the new leader must define which behaviors are desired and which ones are not. Some organizations refer to this as the creation of a management philosophy but the key element is that the behaviors must be defined. It is also important to note that every culture has good points and faults. It is crucial that the good points are maintained so that people have stability in times of change. Elevate and praise the good points that already exist so that people have a bridge to the future.

In turnaround situations, bringing in new people from the outside and setting up project teams to secure performance improvement initiatives are a good fit. In realignments, it may be well advised to start out with less obvious approaches to behavior changes. The new leader can set the stage for collective visioning by changing performance measures and beginning to benchmark.

Once the A-items have been identified and behaviors have been defined, detailed plans for early wins may be created. During the first 30 days these wins are about building credibility and deciding where you will focus your energy to achieve early performance improvements in the next 60 days. The goal of a second wave of change, once this has been accomplished, is to address more fundamental issues of strategy, structure, systems and skills to reshape the organization. This is when the real gains of organizational performance are achieved.

To build credibility,

  • Determine what you want to get across about whom you are and what you represent.
  • Decide the best way to convey those messages.
  • Identify your key audiences (direct reports, other employees, and key outside constituencies). Craft messages tailored to each focusing on who you are, the values and goals that you represent, your style, and how you plan to conduct business.
  • Think about how you introduce yourself. Should you first meet with your direct reports as a group or individually? Will the meetings be informal get-to-know-you sessions or immediately focus on business and assessment? What other channels such as e-mail or video will you use to reach people? Will you meet people at other locations?
  • Remove minor but persistent irritants to your organization.
  • Focus on strained external relationships and begin to repair them.
  • Cut out redundant meetings, shorten excessively long ones, and improve physical space problems.
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