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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Why Doing Things Half Right Gives You the Best Results

HarvardBusiness.org blog

2:50 PM Monday February 2, 2009 by Peter Bregman

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There are times in life when I expect something to be perfect. When I open the box of my new Macbook Air, for example. Or when I take money out of the ATM.

In most cases though, I expect imperfect. And in organizations, I think that's a good thing -- but not in the if-I-expect-imperfect-I-won't-be-disappointed sense.

I'm not suggesting you settle for imperfect. I'm telling you to shoot for it.

Several years ago, a large financial services company asked me to help them roll out a new performance management process for 2,000 people. ...

"Give me six months," I said.

When I reviewed the materials I was impressed, even intimidated. ...

They followed all the rules of traditional change management. ...

Still, only half the managers were doing reviews.

... I redesigned the materials, the training, the messages. ...

It was a complete and utter failure. People resisted. They complained. My own team dissented.

So I pushed harder. After all, I'd designed this myself. It was perfect.

And that's when it hit me. ... I would be more than happy to use it. But I wasn't the person who needed to use it. Here's what I realized:

  1. My perfect is not their perfect.
  2. They don't have a perfect. In fact, there is no they. There are 2000 individuals, each of whom wants something a little different.
  3. The more perfect I think it is, the less willing I'll be to let anyone change it.
  4. The only way to make it useful to everyone is to allow each person to change it to suit him or herself.
  5. The only way people will use it is if they do change it in some way.
  6. The only way I will encourage them to change it and make it their own is if I make it imperfect.

So I stopped the roll-out immediately. And I changed everything to make it half right, half finished. It wasn't pretty, but it was usable.

Even the trainings were half-designed. Halfway through each training, after describing the process, I always asked the same question:

Why won't this work for you?

... I responded to every answer with the same response:

That's a good point. So how can you change it to make it work?

<<reply>>. Great. ...

One by one we dealt with all the issues people saw as obstacles. One by one they made their own changes. One by one they took ownership for the system and became accountable for using it.

Is this only a large-scale change effort idea? Not at all. It's useful whenever you need someone else to take ownership for something. Just get it half right. ...

Here's the hard part: When someone changes your plan, ... Resist the temptation to explain why your way is better. Just smile and say Great. The drive, motivation, and accountability that person will gain from running with her own idea will be well worth it.

... It's also a great way to make a sale. Get the pitch half right and then say . . . Why won't this work for you? Then, go ahead and redesign the offer in collaboration with your potential client. You'll turn a potential client into a collaborative partner who ends up buying his own idea and then working with you to make it successful.

During economic downturns, when it is critical to get more done with fewer resources, getting things half right will take you half as long and give you better results.

How did this work in the performance review roll-out? One year later, the numbers came in. Ninety-five percent of managers had done their reviews.

Imperfectly, I expect.

Peter Bregman is CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global leadership development and change management firm. He advises leaders in many of the world's premier organizations throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. He is the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change.