I was hired to fix the engineering team. My job was to focus on product and get something out the door in the next 6 months.
However, when I saw a fellow in customer service managing tickets in an Excel document, I couldn’t help myself. Why wasn’t he using a ticket system? How did we know all the inquiries were answered in a timely manner? Did anyone else ever look at the incoming tickets so that feedback could be shared with the product teams? I had so many questions, and even more suggestions.
The big question was, though, is this something I should crusade to fix?
Whenever you join a new company, new team, or project, it can be easy to criticize the way things are done. You may have seen it done better elsewhere, or perhaps you just know that there are ways to make the process more efficient. And while great employees make contributions outside of their role, it is important to pick and choose your battles for things that are outside your normal scope.
How do you know what battles to choose?
And when you do choose to crusade for something, what do you need to do to ensure it is success?
I wrote this little guide to help you pick the right crusades, and make sure the ones you choose are successful.
To crusade, or not to crusade?
When you see something you want to fix, the very first thing you have to do is decide if this is worth your time. You have limited time and energy, and when it comes to your work, you need to spend those resources strategically.
Here are some questions to help you think through a go/no-go decision:
- Are you ahead of the game for your work and responsibilities? This is the most important thing to consider; you should never take on additional work unless your required work is handled and wrapped up neatly with a bow. Your number one responsibility is what you have been asked to do, so you better make sure that is done well before you even consider getting involved in something else.
- Does the outcome truly matter? If you are going to take on something outside of your work, it is important that the result of your effort will matter. If you improve the process, will it save time or money? If the feature is built, will it make customers measurably happier? If you change the toolset or rewrite the code, will the improvements be noticeable to multiple people? And will those improvements create more benefits than the time it took to implement them? Think about how you will demonstrate and measure the success before you even start down the path.
- Will you make more friends than enemies? This is an important question in a big company. Your social currency will matter for future projects, and when you take on something outside your domain, it will affect other people. How do they feel about it? Are you stepping on anyone’s toes? Make sure you are trying to bring people along with you, not backing up your adversaries into a corner.
- Do you have the power and influence to make it happen? Sometimes we notice something that needs to change, but we aren’t in a position to make it happen. This doesn’t mean the fight isn’t worth having, but it does mean you need to think strategically about who has the influence to make the change. If it isn’t you, then how are you going to get in front of the person who does have the power? What sort of information and allies do you need to have when you have that meeting? Understanding how decisions are made, and who is making them, is key to success in crusades requiring power and authority.
If you have gone through all of these questions and feel good about the answers, then you are on to the next step: making things happen in big organizations.
Getting things done in big companies
In a small company it is easy to make changes; you can get everyone in a room and make the decision to do it, often in a matter of just a few hours. Smaller companies are less risk averse and have less process, so it is easier to make big bets and do things that are more innovative quickly. There also tends to be a lot more to do, and roles tend to span more responsibilities, so it is easier to get all the right people in the room to make a decision.
After talking with people at companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter, I compiled a list of the best pieces of advice on making things happen in these big organizations.
1. Get your message right. Before you go on your crusade to make a change, make sure you have a solid understanding of the problem, and that you will be able to explain the results and benefits. Try to identify objections and have an argument to refute them (or acknowledge them as risks beforehand, since that will illustrate you have thought through the problem).
2. Understand how decisions are made. Every organization does things a little differently, so it is important to understand how things get done in your organization. I would advise you to learn to embrace the culture, and their way of doing things, instead of putting your limited energy to into changing it.
Chances are there are a few key people making decisions in your company, so you need to figure out which of those people you need buy off from. Once you identify the people, then you need to learn how they make decisions. Do they like data and market research? Do they want information presented in presentations or narratives? Do you need a demo or prototype? Understanding those things in advance will make it much easier for you to make things happen.
3. Build strategic alliances. Your relationships are key to making things happen. Get to know people in other parts of the organization, or complementary teams, before you need to enlist their help. If you have taken someone to coffee before, and you know about their team and role, you will be much more likely to have their support for your feature/process/change/decision/etc.
4. Build consensus around decisions before the meeting takes place. This is important, because once you get in a meeting and someone opposes you in a public way, it can be very difficult to move things forward with that opposition in place. While it seems like it may take a lot more time, in the long run it can end up taking less time (you learn all the objections before the meeting and can prepare for them), and is better for your relationships at work.
5. Share information. Whether you succeed or fail, share what you learn as you go along. Send regular status updates, or have a heartbeat meeting to touch base. Keep everyone that cares about your quest on the same page. This is a great way to guard against silent failure. This way, if you aren’t successful it may not be seen as a failure, but as smart thinking and discovery.
6. Follow up after the fact with the results. If people know that you make things happen, they are going to be likely to support you more in the future. People love to play for a winning team. After you have completed the project, be sure to say thank you and help others see the results of your efforts. This doesn’t have to be a big presentation or meeting, just a simple follow up email to close the loop.
Hopefully this gives you some ideas with your next project or crusade. There are things outside the scope of your normal role that are worth your time, but investing the time and energy to fight for them has to make sense. Not every fight is worth fighting, and if you’re going to take the time to fight, you should be prepared to do the work it takes to win.
And always remember that no matter what your job is now, it is loaded with opportunity.
All you have to do is think about your work and come up with ways to improve it. When you show that you are someone that makes improvements, you will be given more responsibility, and with that comes even more opportunity. You will not just improve your company, but also your skills and abilities.