Training Employees to Anticipate and Get Around Roadblocks

When you train leaders on preventing and working around roadblocks, you create an organization that keeps chugging efficiently down the road.

When you make a deal to have a marketing organization, or another provider, create material for you that you believe will make an impact, you want it done—and done fast. In many organizations, however, “fast” is unusual. In the guise of being cautious, there often are numerous hurdles to clear to get a new product or outsourced work off the ground. Is this caution or foolishness?

I have experienced doing work for companies to aid their marketing that requires a legal review to get the material I created into use. Sometimes the process is as fast as a couple weeks. Other times, it’s endless and the material the company asked me to create never gets used. Once in a while, a project I was rushed to complete gets used as much as six months later.

How does the approval process work in your organization? When does having a long approval and checks and balances process make sense and when is it pointless? Legal fears can drive delays, with the need for lawyers to review and re-review new products and marketing materials. Sometimes, delays are caused by executives needing to justify their positions, making comments and raising concerns to ensure they provide input, even if that input does not provide value.

Understand the Different Animals in the Jungle

LinkedIn published a piece in 2016 by Dean Aston on “How to ‘Get Things Done’ in a Complex Organization and Drive Positive Change.” He offers tips that Learning professionals and Human Resources executives could use to get their own projects completed, and that also could be taught to managers in leadership development programs.

He recommends “understanding the different animals in the jungle.” I got back only a few weeks ago from a safari in Africa, so this metaphor resonates with me (though on an African safari, it’s a savanna rather than a jungle). The guide who drove our offroad jeep and led us through the wilds knew the tendencies of every animal we saw. He knew what a flick of the ears or the swishing of a tail meant. If animals, such as a mother-and-son rhinoceros duo, were blocking the road in front of us, he knew when they likely would head off to the side to eat vegetation. In an organization, the key players for a manager have tendencies—as we all do—that can be learned and optimized. An observant manager can learn when a colleague or higher-level employee who is blocking the road is likely to move out of the way (or what it’s going to take to get that person to move out of the way).

A manager who must get “input” from a “stakeholder” who has been difficult in the past, can learn what motivates that stakeholder. For the rhinoceroses on safari, it was a patch of vegetation on the side of the road, which our guide knew was coming up shortly. For a stakeholder who likes to throw up roadblocks, what is their key motivation? It could be vanity or ambition. Does the manager’s new product or new marketing materials do anything to make that stakeholder look good? Getting quickly past that person could be as simple as adding a few lines to the marketing that tip the hat to work that person has done. In the case of a new product proposal, it could mean making reference to the work that person did that helped lay the groundwork for the new product idea.

Heading Off Roadblocks

Sometimes a stakeholder is blocking the road because of genuine concerns, such as about sustainability. In the case of a stakeholder with such ideals, managers can be trained to seek out the person before the proposal is created to ask what can be added (or removed) to satisfy their concerns. Rather than waiting for roadblocks to happen, the manager can prevent them from occurring in the first place. Too often, a proposal for new work is completed with stakeholder input asked for only at the point that a draft, demo, or mock-up has already been created.

Future-Focused Advisors

Aston also recommends working with a team of “expert advisors,” thinking about the future, and measuring. When you get input from likely roadblock stakeholders ahead of time, you not only can ask about their goals for the future, you can work with them on setting up measures to gauge whether a new product or new marketing materials will work, and in what circumstances the items you are seeking approval for should be discontinued.

When you train up-and-coming leaders on anticipating roadblocks, and finding ways to prevent those roadblocks from happening in the first place, you create an organization that keeps chugging efficiently down the road, regardless of how big the animals are that get in the way.

How do you prepare leaders to create proposals for new initiatives that get around roadblocks before they even have time to form?