What Implementation Really Means

My first job, in the mid 90s, was as a management consultant. Though I was often working 70+ hours a week, on some level I knew the job was easy:

  1. Gather information, from inside and outside the company we were working with
  2. Understand client needs, and trends in the marketplace
  3. Talk to folks who knew what was going right, and going wrong
  4. Do a bunch of data analysis
  5. Write it all down in a coherent story
  6. Present that story to the client
  7. Walk away

The job—at least how I experienced it as a more junior person—boiled down to synthesizing and collating what was already known. Often, the main purpose was to force a set of conversations within the client company, by laying out an existing, but murky, perspective clearly.

After that, our job was to walk away. We’d leave the “implementation” to the company, as if that were just the last, eighth step in the process.

Nearly three decades later, I find myself in a world where all the world’s information—and more, thanks to AI—is literally at our fingertips. Everywhere we turn we find versions of 10 Tips to Be More Effective, 8 Ways to Inspire Your Team, 12 Steps to Driving Your Strategy Through Your Company.

The catch is this: it’s one thing to consume all of this information, to reflect on the gaps between what’s described and what you see in your organization.  And it’s another thing entirely to turn awareness of these gaps into real and meaningful change.

The “implementation” is not a small part of the overall job. It is often the whole job.

The job of making change happen with and through people, given all the existing constraints—culture, customers, expectations, old habits.

The job of doing it in a way that makes everyone empowered and excited, that treats them as part of the solution.

That’s the hard part, every time.

By all means, be curious and active in consuming information about better way to do things. We need that curiosity and external focus, always.

But also remember that there are few stances that are safer than that of the person who sits on the sidelines, like I did when I was a management consultant, describing what could be, and leaving the “implementation” to someone else (or, worse, sitting on the sidelines with arms crossed, saying to anyone who will listen something like, “If only they would [blank] then everything would be better.”)

There are few stances than are easier and safer than describing what needs to be done, and placing the weight of inaction at someone else’s feet.

And there are few stances more courageous than putting yourself on the hook, getting your own hands dirty, and walking the path from idea to implementation.

That’s called leadership.

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