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Leading a Grassroots Initiative

by Eric Kraus

For the last year, I’ve been working on a project to increase efficiency and communication across my team. Sounds easy enough, but it wasn’t. It involved fundamentally changing how my team and teams that work with us behave. I’ve recently started reflecting on patterns that I have been using to lead this effort and finding a core set of principles that have led to its success.

Make sure your project doesn’t interfere with your day job

It certainly won’t do you any good to work on something while your “day job” suffers.  Making sure you are exceeding in what you are supposed to be doing first will ensure you continue to have a job to come to.

Tackle a real problem that is specific and benefits the whole organization

True to the first point, finding a problem that is specific and benefits the whole organization, and being able to articulate it, will help get stay aligned to the responsibilities of your job. It can also help you get support down the road. If you can find a problem that is meaningful to you or your team, it will make things a lot easier.

So, if you’re in an exploration/ideation phase, look no further than your own team or processes. Things here might be related to inefficiency, wasted expense/cost, poor team morale, etc. Just ask yourself:

“What’s the most frustrating part of doing my job?”

The answer should give you a good idea of something that deserves further thought. Also, instead of existing challenges, you can also look for opportunities to drive new revenue, productivity or employee satisfaction.

Have manager awareness and support

One way to get support from your manager is to know what is important to him/her. It’s also important to know how your skip level manager is evaluated and ultimately compensated. If your effort aligns to those measures, management will have an easier time understanding and supporting your effort…

Build a campaign

In order to build a movement, you need people joining with a clear message. Initially, you’ll probably do the evangelism. But eventually, you won’t scale. Having a place where your campaign can be discovered and referenced (like a blog or website) will help people share the right message. Many times with large cultural changes, it’s helpful to track success stories as well. Some tips I’ve found helpful:

  • Use a #hashtag on your company’s enterprise social network
  • Post updates on an internal blog
  • Track mission/charter and other important info on a Wiki

Solicit Feedback, look for champions/evangelists

If your intentions are good, you’ll want as much honest feedback on the effort possible. If your effort is just a political, ladder climbing exercise…you may have to do it alone.

Find out what others are thinking and incorporate that feedback into your plan.

Ask those who have been successful in similar activities to review your plan/progress and offer advice. Also be perceptive to people who may fear your project could replace their job. Gather their direct feedback (and ultimately their buy-in) so your plan can account for that earlier in the process.

Plan to experiment, learn and adjust

Run mini-experiments and trials to test your theories out.  Don’t spend too much time planning, just go do and learn.

There is no sense building some grand vision only to find out there is a kink that prevents it from actually happening. The entire process should be iterative when possible.

Share with Executives

Once you have some good material and successful supporting stories…start sharing it with executives. I have not talked with an executive who wasn’t very *intrigued* with the outcome I am seeking. Not only will this help your career, but it’ll give you a good indication of the likelihood your project can go mainstream.

Be persistent

If you believe in your cause, don’t listen to nay-sayers.  Enough said.


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