Leaders: Anticipate the Ripple Effects from Your Decisions

In conversations with clients, the analogy of throwing a rock into a lake often
comes up. The change project / initiative or an every day decision you make as a leader represents the rock.

The rock could be as small as a pebble when of the daily variety. Or it could be a boulder when the rock fundamentally changes the way a department or an entire business process works, because it cuts across multiple organizations.

rock hitting lake

When the rock hits the water, it generates ripples as it sinks. Some of the ripple effects we can predict:

  • We know how (perhaps even design how) new business processes will work
  • We anticipate how certain individuals will respond to a decision or a request (they will like it and get on board or require more convincing)
  • We identify where training and/or communication needs arise
  • We forecast where departments will need to work together more closely than before because new data becomes available to support customer needs

Other ripple effects we cannot predict or business requirements simply change along the way:

  • Yet another stakeholder arises with a strong point of view who had not been previously identified
  • Another department’s project timeline overlaps with yours in a way that constrains available resources
  • The company acquires (or divests) another product (or service) line
  • The executive sponsoring your project moves to a different job altogether

Here is where things get really complicated. Across the company, everyone throws rocks into the same lake every day. So everyone’s ripple effects bump up against one another constantly.

What can you do about it?

  1. Plan for the unexpected. Develop Plan A, and at the same time, also create or at least anticipate the need for Plans B, C and/or D. Then when you need to implement Plan B, C or D (or some hybrid of those alternatives), you and your team are not caught unprepared. Instead you demonstrate to your leadership your flexibility. When does a pure “Plan A” scenario ever really take place anyway??
  2. Assess the landscape. Do not act as if your decisions take place in
    isolation. Recognize and factor in the big picture. Anticipate the frame of reference of the other individuals (or departments) hearing your requests and what competing priorities they may juggle simultaneously.
  3. Consciously work to identify the ripple effects of your decisions / requests in advance. Then when the unanticipated ones crop up, you will know better the next time.

The next time you go to the lake, or watch someone skipping rocks across the lake, you will likely think about it differently. Ripple effects surround us. Just ask Dr. Seuss and The Lorax.

Betsy Winkler is Partner at People Results. She can be reached on Twitter @BetsyWinkler1 or on email at bwinkler@www.people-results.com. Sign up to receive her and her colleagues’ blog at Current.