Most organization change efforts fail because they lackclarity of focus, leadership, a sense of urgency, a solid plan, preparation, the right people, the right resources, execution and follow-through, measurement and feedback, and organizational learning. This was the message that I heard from Clinton O. Longenecker in a workshop on “rapid performance improvement.” He cited research by Satya S. Chakravorty, who found that nearly 60% of Six Sigma initiatives do not achieve their intended goals largely because of the absence of these factors.
Longenecker, co-author of The Two-Minute Drill: Lessons for Rapid Organizational Improvement From America’s Greatest Game, argues that organizational change efforts should be like a two-minute drill in football. Although we tend to over-use sports analogies and many people would disagree that football is America’s “greatest game”, I think the comparison in this case is instructive. The two-minute drill in football is what good teams do when they’re behind in the last few minutes of a game. This set of rapid-fire plays, often with no huddle, takes a great deal of practice. Every team member must have a heightened sense of urgency and focus. When effective, the goal is clear and everyone knows their roles. If the quarterback provides the necessary leadership, the team is often successful in scoring during those final two minutes. So too for change initiatives: they are successful when there is preparation, when there is a sense of urgency, when everyone is clear about intended outcomes, when everyone is clear about their roles, when there is strong leadership, and when progress and results are measured.
I think one of the key reasons why a two-minute-drill approach, whether in football or in organizational change, is often successful is an increase in risk-taking. A football team takes risks in a two-minute drill that they would never take during the regular part of the game. So to organizations, if they want their change efforts to be successful, may have to take risks that they might not otherwise. They have to do things differently, sometimes without knowing what will happen. At the same time, they should not let the intensity of the situation prevent them from checking the scoreboard and learning from successes and setbacks. That is, they should be monitoring progress, measuring results, and providing feedback to team members.