Talking about change and improvement, but never doing anything about it, is really frustrating. Frustration like this is a constant in many organizations and on many teams.
It does not have to be like this. Pretty much everyone wants to see things moving forward and it is on us as leaders to create the conditions for progress to take root.
The way I deal with this is by using what I now call “the ratchet of accountability”
The necessary first step is to work with your team or an individual on your team to come up with a new process or a new responsibility that needs to be taken on in order to achieve a goal or solve a problem.
The second step is to put this out in written format, reminding everyone what they agreed to. For example:
Hey Mary and Louis. Productive meeting yesterday! Thank you both for your input on the problem with Morgolis House. Yesterday we agreed that Mary would take on the responsibility for creating a page on the intranet site and posting each complaint we get to that new page and Louis would escalate any complaint to Alexis that needed action (using your best judgement, Louis) before we meet again in two weeks. We also agreed that we would meet in four weeks and have a look at all of the complaints that came in. We all thought this would be the right first step in deciding how serious the issues are and what the next steps should be.
Another option is to ask someone on the team to do the written summary for your approval, just be sure you review it before it goes out and endorse it when it is sent out.
Sending confirmation and clarification messages like this is your responsibility as a leader. Most new leaders (and even some veteran ones!) don’t do this. They assume just because the discussion happened that everyone will do their part. In my experience, they won’t. Things might not have been clear in the meeting and/or people might forget the details. It’s difficult for people to adjust their routines and so it is essential to make the new expectations clear. By sending this clarification, we are making sure everyone understands what was agreed to and that we are serious about this as the leader.
The third step is to check on progress regularly. This is usually as simple as a conversation in the hallway or a quick call, text, or email asking how things are going. If you get the feeling that things are not progressing, then have a longer conversation to find out why. These conversations re-inforce your seriousness about the changes you are trying to make and what your expectations are. In the process, you might learn that they needed you to remind them of the tasks and push them forward; or that the plan is flawed and needs adjustment; or that your people need help prioritizing their new responsibilities without compromising their current ones.
Between the documenting and the checking in, is where the ratchet happens. Like a ratchet, things can only move forward, not back. Plans are agreed to, carried out or adjusted to reality, and priorities are revised. It is simple, but it works. It is much better than what happens when we just leave things to chance after we take time to figure out a plan. The ratchet closes the loop of accountability and moves things forward. It also shows staff that we care about them and about the results we need to create for the organization.