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Delivering Change to the Last Mile

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- In the telecom industry, "The Last Mile" refers to capacity restrictions as data downloads from big pipes with up to 20,000,000 megabytes per second to copper wires with 3 megabytes per second. Connecting the Internet to individual homes is like drinking liquid through a tiny straw. Last mile restrictions dramatically reduce the richness of the Internet.

In organizations it's the same. Most organizations have plenty of richly designed programs, but few programs actually improve business results. More often deliverables end up in project binders collecting dust on a shelf -- deliverables that deliver nothing.

These large-scale improvement programs are often designed at the top. Headquarter design teams construct detailed process policies to address as many "what if" scenarios as possible. Their assumption is that a perfectly designed program will work ... perfectly. Removing employee discretion is an important step towards perfection.

When the program is finally designed, the headquarter design team sends it down the organizational hierarchy in hopes that employees will understand the rationale, deploy it without revision and change their daily patterns of behavior. But that rarely happens.

The richness of well-designed programs is lost when they cannot traverse the last mile and change behavior. It is important to remember that if a program does not influence people to do something different when they come to work, the program creates no value to shareholders, customers or employees.

But that's all too theoretical. Let's get practical.

Example 1: Redesigning a Sales Team

A sales organization wants to up its game. The executive management team spends months with a top consulting firm to design a team-based sales approach. After numerous iterations and thousands of PowerPoint slides that describe behaviors for virtually every conceivable situation, the deck is sent down the hierarchy. But nothing changes. The sales operations department, sensing failure, reacts with a three-day training program to explain the process maps and the new policies. Still nothing happens.

Problems: The first problem with this scenario is that the headquarters team was looking for perfection -- an A. But successful changes begin with a B. A's are typically too complex for Version 1.

Keep Version 1 simple. Let each sales team modify the program to fit their member skills and their customer situation. When you let sales teams customize -- when members have a chance to argue through every point -- they will truly understand how the team will operate and each member will feel personal ownership for the change.

The second problem is that the corporate design team tried to manage people through process maps and policies -- if you send out a policy, behavior will change. But, policies can't manage people; people manage people.

Think of the New York Yankees. Year-after-year they produce extraordinary teams. The Yankee's team culture is very strong. Every team member knows precisely what is expected. And violations are strictly enforced by peers.