4 Ways to Avoid Initiative Fatigue

Erika Flora
Written by Erika Flora

We’ve all been there (or guilty of doing it ourselves): Leadership comes in one day and says, “Gather ‘round folks! It’s time to implement [Great New Best Practice Improvement Thing]!” The announcement is followed by a flurry of excitement and activity over the next several months: Leadership goes on a This is What We’re Doing and Why it’s Important tour and tons of meetings and/or trainings are scheduled in preparation for the Great New Best Practice Improvement Thing (GNBPIT). Then, a few months later, you notice the GNBPIT has quietly faded away, never to be heard from again. (It doesn’t write. It doesn’t call.)

Repeat this cycle often enough and you’ll develop a culture of, “Ugh, another GNBPIT. Let’s just wait a few months for it to go away so we won’t have to change anything we’re doing.” For every idea that comes and goes with little-to-no success, it becomes increasingly difficult to get people on board with the next one, thus making it nearly impossible for the organization to transform over time. This fate is such a common one among organizations that it even has a name: Bright Shiny Object Syndrome. So, what to do?

Don’t just talk the talk

Words are easy. Action is difficult.  To ensure success, leadership has to be prepared to do the following:

Take the long view

Improvements will happen, but they often take time. Thus, we need to stick with improvement efforts longer than we may have in the past. I’m talking months or years sometimes – not days or weeks. The key to long-term success is to treat it as exactly that: Long term. These endeavors shouldn’t be viewed as quick fixes (though improvement efforts will undoubtedly find some short-term successes). Excellence takes time. If you set unrealistic deadlines, people will give up before they ever get started. 

Commit resources

Be ready to commit resources to any improvement endeavor. This involves having a frank conversation with your staff about what is needed.  Do not go down the Best Practice path if you aren’t willing to part with staff time (other things won’t get done, so be ready to make a tradeoff) and organizational budget (you will be asked to provide money for training, to purchase tools, pay consultants to support your team until they are self-sufficient, etc.).  If you cannot do these two things, don’t ‘talk the talk’ of improvement, as your staff will see right through it.  Your job is to remove roadblocks so your team has every opportunity for success.  You undermine them when you ask them to do something new (something they may have never done or that may be completely foreign) then deny them the tools they need to make it happen.

Communicate your successes

I recently heard a fantastic saying from one of our customers, “There are three steps to success.  Plan what you’re going to do.  Do it.  And then tell people you did it!”  Don’t underestimate the power of consistent communication. Messaging like this is why we’re changing and this is what it means to you helps remind people of the goal behind the change.  Err on the side of too much communication rather than too little. At the very least, do these things in support of any new initiative – then communicate, communicate, communicate them:

  • Create simple visuals and roadmaps. Even a literal “You are here” map can be helpful.
  • Measure your current state prior to getting started so you’ll have a baseline against which you can compare future successes.
  • Celebrate those successes with the team to reinforce and remind people that you are, in fact, making progress toward the larger goal.

Stick with it even when it sucks.

Be prepared for things to get worse before they get better.  There will be a period of time when the change seems downright unbearable, and you are not going to be a very popular person.  People will question the endeavor, and they will question you.  No change is sunshine and rainbows.  You are asking people to work differently than they ever have, and it will take time for people to acclimate to this unfamiliar behavior.  You may even see productivity slow in the beginning as staff tries out the new process. You will hear a lot of complaints. You will face frequent resistance and challenges.  Be ready for it.

At the outset, when the GNBPIT is merely an idea, it’s easy for everyone to get excited about how it will improve their day-to-day lives. When people actually start making the change and realize it’s more difficult than what they had been doing, they’ll start to question why they started down this path in the first place. Know this experience is natural and that your job is to keep people focused on the end goal – to help them stick with it. If you get discouraged, they will, too. As a leader, it’s important you avoid the temptation to drop the improvement initiative when the going gets tough. If the organization sticks with it, everyone will be stronger as a result. Just be aware you’ll have to go through some dark times to get there. Brace yourself for problems so you’re not surprised and end up changing course or completely stopping along the way.

Create a culture of improvement, not buzzwords.

If you say, “We are going Agile!” or “We are doing ITIL!” you are destined to fail.  Our most successful customers are the ones who focus instead on creating a culture of continual improvement – a timeless concept.  Do not focus on the flavor of the month or a particular buzzword.  Also remember that no one Best Practice is the answer to all of your problems.  It’s not DevOps.  It’s not Agile.  It’s usually a combination of a lot of different solutions, critical thinking, and creative ideas.  Do not let the buzzwords take over what you are trying to do.  Rather, define the peril you are trying to avoid or the goal you are trying to achieve, and use these Best Practice ideas as tools to get you to where you are trying to go.


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Originally published April 04 2017, updated January 01 2019