Stepping Over Dead Bodies

February 15, 2010

By John Munce, Deployment Executive, The Tatham Group

Anyone who has lived through a home renovation knows how they begin in great hope, fall to desperate longings for it to end, and ultimately concludes with awareness of all the little things that didn’t turn out perfectly.  I’ve lived through five renovations in four houses. Each ended by saying, “well, let’s not do that again.”  But, after each one, we loved living in the result.  We couldn’t imagine going back to the old ways.

Laura, our hyper successful realtor for houses three and four, gave me the best cautionary advice for considering houses that needed renovation.  She said, “Finish it now while it’s still fresh.   After six months, people will step over dead bodies in the living room without thinking twice.”

She’s right.  It’s takes great will power to finish.  There are slow contractors and disappearing subs and inspectors that never keep appointments.  After a while, I almost came to believe that the wall with half-sanded sheet rock was meant to be that way.  You’ve got to really want to finish the job.

Many times when talking to managers about fixing an end-to-end process, I’ve heard Laura’s voice in my head.  “They’re just stepping right over those dead bodies.”  To my eyes, the opportunities are screaming for attention.  They don’t see it.  They may want a little touch up here or there—like a dab of paint—but not the whole renovation.  Or they’ve started to improve but don’t want to finish the whole job.  They like the idea of getting different results without the reality of doing the renovation.  They’ve grown accustomed to stepping over those bodies in the living room.

Many times I’ve heard teams and managers complain about the problems of putting in place a solution.  They talk about how the information technology folks won’t put something in the queue.  Or that the next department doesn’t understand.  Or that finance won’t approve the business case.  Just like doing that renovation:  can’t get those subs and inspectors onto the schedule.

I wish I could find a magic powder that would make people want to take on the real work, a powder that would give them the craving to finish the punch out list.  So far I haven’t discovered any powder.  The closest I’ve come is stories about people who lived through the renovation and loved the new house.  And I’ve found that Laura’s line about dead bodies catches their attention.  I know we’re on the right path when an exec says, “I’m tired of stepping over that dead body.  Let’s fix it once and for all.”