Just do it

Things that need to be done can sometimes seem hard, complicated and daunting. Finding a place to start can often be hard and as for trying to get diverse groups of people around the table, let alone to agree to anything, looks impossible. There are all sorts of platitudes that can get trotted out at times like this; the journey of a thousand paces starts with a single step, or eating the elephant one bite at a time being two of my least favourites, especially when they are trotted out by people who don’t have to do the hard jobs. Making things happen takes all sorts of things, but there is one tool that works every time.

At one point in my career I found myself thrust up a rung, albeit temporarily, on the corporate ladder. It was April the 1st and so perhaps I should have known better, but the business division that I was now told that I was running was trying to stagger into life having had half of it ripped out rather painfully over the preceding six months. My boss, who had been leading the demerger, was being moved aside and I was to take over. I had three months to take what was left and organise it into a business that could be sold off or outsourced. Two senior consultants from one of the global practices would be monitoring my progress and benchmarking the external market with the aim of presenting a report by beginning of August on the way forward.

No-one gave us a hope. The demerger had only been finisher at the end of March, our fiscal year, when the operating division taking half of the team had been told that if they didn’t complete the deal the budgets would not be transferred to them and the resulting scramble left a mess that most folks thought would take half of the coming year to resolve.

They were wrong: By the end of April we had a fully functional team covering the whole of the UK and by the end of June the consultants agreed that they had the necessary levels of data to work with. The first quarter of the year ended, the consultants crunched their numbers and their report was circulated a few days ahead of schedule at the end of July.

At the end of the second week of August the steering group met and the consultants presented their findings. There would be no financial saving from outsourcing and the likely effect of selling the operation would be that service levels would fall; their recommendation was to retain the work in house.

The logical solution was to put us back in with the colleagues from whom we had been demerged just a few months earlier, but there were two major stumbling blocks; firstly that group did not want us which is why we were being set up for disposal, and secondly it meant that certain senior managers had been wrong in their assumptions and to reverse their decision would result in some loss of face. The meeting ended with no way forward on what was to be done with us, but as we walked down the corridor to the lift we ran into the MD of another division of the company, one that had expressed an interest in our future.

We quickly explained what had just happened and he took us up to see the relevant main board member who granted us a 10 minute audience. Having explained the steering committee position and the alternative option we were suggesting he agreed in principle and granted us until the end of that September, some 6 weeks away, to present a proposal on how we would implement the move at the end of the current financial year the following March.

Retiring to the canteen we ran through the options and made a couple of telephone calls with the result that a week later we were back in front of the board member with a draft plan and barely six weeks later the organisational change took place.

It wasn’t easy; HR, IT and Finance all could have made it impossible, but were bullied, pleaded with, cajoled and, to some degree, bribed (perhaps induced with the promise of future favours and support would be a better way to say it) to make it happen. The biggest opposition came from the group who did not want us and their propaganda campaign and lobbying took some effort to mitigate, but we did it.

Certainly it wasn’t a perfect job and there were a few rough edges to clean up, but none were of any significance and we had put in place a process to deal with such things quickly in the anticipation that issues would arise. We lost a few good people who did not want to come with us, but we did something that the organisation needed and we did it in record time.

The key was that the decision to make a change had been made and whilst many of us did not agree with the change or the way that it was made, me included, we accepted the decision and just did it; we took it on as a challenge, a mission impossible, and made it happen.

Whatever the task you face there will always be those who say that it can’t be done and others who say that it shouldn’t be done. Some may be persuaded to change their minds and help, many will sit on the fence and a few will strenuously oppose you, even try to sabotage you. It is possible that you will fail, but if you don’t start you will fail and if you start with the feeling that you might fail you probably will.

Get stuck in with a positive frame of mind and you will surprise everyone, yourself included, with just what can be achieved. The tool that works every time is you: you just do it.


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