Most people love change when it benefits them but hate it when it inconveniences them.
It is not easy to implement projects or change effectively. In fact, various reports estimate that up to 70% of company initiatives fail.
Over the years I have been successful in helping leaders navigate change.
I actually learned quite a number of things that lead to success from whitewater rafting.
The whitewater metaphor has been used quite frequently to describe the chaotic experience that the rafters or team members go through during a change.
I am going to take a different perspective. That of the captain or guide.
I am going to use the acrostic DREAMS to walk through a process that I think you will find engaging and helpful as you prepare to implement your next project.
Determine the Destination
Read the River
Execute Excellent Leadership
All Together - use your crew
Let's start with D.
“Where are we”?
We were two hours into a 3 day trip on the Colorado River and the signs of civilization were disappearing.
I respond “Maybe we should pull out the map”, my fellow guide trainee says "Naw, we don’t need that, we’re in the wilderness"!
A few thoughts flashed through my head as I reached into my dry bag to pull out an old weathered map.
“I’m hungry,” someone says “When are we going to eat” chimes in another.
Our leader was a seasoned outdoorsman but only had one season as a guide and had only been on this section of river 1 time before.
“Ok” says the leader “eddy out here for lunch” it was almost 2:00.
After finishing lunch we got back on the river and I asked the leader where we were going to camp for the evening and he responded: “we’ll see.”
As we floated downstream, I pulled out the map and started following the course we were on and I saw that there were several good camp spots along the way.
Unfortunately every time I brought up the idea of looking at the map I got a “F the map” response. No worries, I thought to myself, but this is going to be a really long day.
As dusk approached, the leader decided we needed to set up camp, but we couldn’t find a suitable location. Things began to get tense. I suggested that he look at the map but only received another volley of expletives.
Eventually, we rounded a corner, and there in front of us was a bridge.
The leader said “No way! we’re not supposed to be here until tomorrow afternoon!”
So we immediately pulled over and set up camp. After everything was cleaned up from dinner we sat around the fire talking.
The conversation turned to life ambitions and I mentioned that it is really helpful to have a life plan like having a map... but that did not have the desired effect as everyone looked at me and said “you and your maps - F the map" in unison.
Here are two observations as I reflect on my river experience.
1. Maps are Essential (if you want to know where you are and where you’re going)
I am amazed at how many businesses do not take the time to map out their objectives. Just like my rafting buddies, they seem to think everything will just work out on its own. That rarely occurs. To be successful you need to spend the time and money to develop a clear and accurate strategy map for your organization. Some things to include in determining the destination and creating your map could be:
2. Maps only work when you use them.
It doesn’t help to have a map if you never bother to look at it.
It also doesn't help to have one person following the map when everyone else is taking off in their own direction.
I have read beautiful strategic plans that reside in large binders that have become nothing more than shelf ornaments.
A project catalyst can serve a critical role in making sure that the plan is developed and is being used. This role can be filled internally by the project sponsor, project manager, or by an external consultant.
Accountability is essential in any successful project or change.
In the next post we will take a look at the R in our acrostic and will learn about reading the river.
Dwight Grant is a seasoned businessman with over 30 years of leadership experience. He lives in CO where he enjoys whitewater rafting, mountain biking and spending time with family.