Maintain & Improve, or Fix it When it Breaks?

If you have a project on your desk, you have choices. You can manage it with a sense of urgency, you can vaguely hope it will resolve itself without your involvement, you can engage in a cycle of long-term analysis of options and alternatives, or you can wait deliberately and address it as deferred maintenance once it becomes an emergency. Understandably, a status quo approach can be very appealing. It takes energy to evaluate continually what is happening around oneself and to address it. And sometimes, things do work themselves out, proving the slow-burn approach correct.

Sometimes, though, things don’t work themselves out. Those times, an actionable, manageable project or initiative – a strategic plan, for example – remains unlaunched, and in the space where the project should have been, a messy crisis grows. Perhaps a big annual donation or contract goes un-renewed because a reliable funder feels as if there is a lack of strategic direction or quantifiable outcomes. Like all crises, this one must be addressed. And because it was unplanned, it is un- or under-resourced, difficult or impossible to fix, and costly.

We repeatedly observe several things that seem to get in the way of moving forward, including:

  • Hope that things resolve themselves positively without having to embark on the initiative
  • Fear of moving forward that exceeds the fear of inaction
  • A focus on perfecting the project process itself and avoiding conflict that takes precedence over action

That seems like a lot of unnecessary risk. Why take it?

Hope is a beautiful thing, but it is not a plan. Growing organizations, creating strategy, and building Boards and teams all require a bias toward action. Resolving problems requires proactive, productive intervention; they do not cure themselves, and they have the potential to spiral out of control.

It is perfectly normal to be aware of the newness of an initiative that is new to you. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t do it. The bravest thing you can do when you are not brave is to profess courage and act accordingly (quote attributed to Corra Harris). If your initiative involves Strategic Planning or Board Development, and you are going to be working with an advisor, you can rely on that advisor to provide you with detail to your satisfaction about the process you will be following. Or pick another advisor.

The last item on the list – the spin cycle of analysis paralysis – can be deceptive. You can feel like you are moving things forward, after all, you are evaluating vendors, holding meetings, and discussing plans. All the while, the world does not stop moving around the slow-moving project process. To the naked eye, there is activity. In reality, there is a vacuum – perhaps even a jockeying for control – where the project should be.

The alternative? Decisive, appropriate, forward motion that delivers positive energy and results. Wise counsel and trusted advice will support the steps to be taken and will help you manage risk. Rely on that. The most avoidable risk is standing still.

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