What Boats Should You Be Burning?

History tells us that when Alexander the Great invaded Persia, he burned his ships upon landing on the shores of Persia and then told his men if they wanted to go home they would have to go home in Persian ships. This provided significant motivation to the Greek soldiers and they fought hard and conquered the Persians even though they were far outnumbered. This same strategy was repeated on the shores of Mexico in 1519 by Hernan Cortes with his small army of 600 Spaniards. Turns out Cortes also won this war and conquered Mexico. It is amazing what motivated people can do!

Now, I do not recommend burning boats or vehicles or other modes of transportation in today’s world. However, metaphorically speaking, you need to ask yourself what boats have carried your business to some distant shores and now need to be burned so there is no way back? In other words, what mission critical initiatives were rolled out in your organization that did not get 100% buy-in from your staff because you allowed old behaviors or tools or processes to continue?

Quite a few years ago, I was part of an organization that transitioned to a new tool for submitting business related expenses. The new expense tool was tested, piloted and then rolled out with appropriate employee training. The old tool was archived and if anyone submitted an expense report using the old tool, the expense was rejected and had to be resubmitted with the new tool. We “burned the boats”.

This technique works extremely well with changes that an organization feels is critical to business success and 100% compliance is required. Obviously, risks need to be mitigated with this approach as you do not want to transition to the new system and burn the old one only to find out the new one doesn’t work (I’ve lived through this scenario with a business system upgrade fail – no one deserves to be put through that!) Here are some general guidelines that are required to make this process run smoothly;

  1. The new business system, process or tool needs to be thoroughly tested and vetted by affected stakeholders
  2. A pilot of the change should be implemented and run prior to going live
  3. All affected stakeholders need to be briefed about the change and why it is happening and what the benefits are
  4. All affected stakeholders need to be trained and prepared for the change
  5. There should be a support team in place to solve problems and answer questions during the transition
  6. Once steps 1 to 5 are complete, the boats are ready to be burned and the new business critical change can be implemented and should get 100% voluntary and “relatively” painless compliance

Take a close look at your business this week. Are there programs that were kicked off that were critical to your business but did not gain traction because you allowed “escape boats?” What actions can you take today to get your organization fully aligned with these programs?

For more information on this topic, refer to this Canadian Business magazine article.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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