The Limits of the Discovery Phase

Most change initiatives begin with Discovery phase, or an audit—an effort to really dig into the organization and figure out what's not working, and why. But all too often, leaders think that's enough. The final report gets passed around, meetings are held to discuss it... and business continues as usual.

Don’t get us wrong, Discovery is important. If some leaders aren’t convinced that change needs to take place, gathering data from the team can help sway their opinion. And sometimes, just providing a forum for people to share their experience is a positive step—many times, people will thank us afterwards for the chance to be heard.

But there’s a risk inherent in Discovery: stopping there. You’ve brought all these issues to the surface, and set an expectation that things are going to be different. If people don’t start to see change, it’s all too easy for them to become cynical—why did you waste their time and get their hopes up, if nothing’s changing? Meanwhile, the team that led the Discovery process may be feeling overwhelmed. They’ve heard conflicting accounts about what needs to change, or don’t know what’s the greatest priority, or how to even start doing things differently.

That’s why we at NOBL focus so heavily on what happens after the Discovery step. Nothing convinces people that change is real like seeing change actually happen, so it’s critical to act on the information you’ve discovered as quickly as possible. If you want to accelerate change with your team, try one of the following activities:

  • Hold a retrospective. Bring the team together to discuss a recent project, or ask them to think about how they’ve been working together for the past three months. What’s working? What could be improved? And, most importantly, what simple fixes could they make in the next two days to actually improve it? Make sure these are tasks that participants can do, not changes that they want to assign to people who weren’t involved in the retro. It’s human nature to think you’re right and that others need to change—instead, focus your team’s energy on what they can control.

  • Change one habit. As the leader, your actions will set the tone for the rest of the group. To show your commitment, pick a bad habit to change. It could be anything from “interrupting the facilitator during meetings” to “responding to emails on weekends”, but make sure that it’s visible to the team at large. Then, figure out what triggers that habit, and what different process you can implement to get the same reward. Learn more about habits here.

  • Remove one blocker. As you know from Discovery, your team already has some ideas for what they want to do differently—let them! In your 1:1s with team members, focus on one thing that’s preventing them from doing their best work, and ask them how you can remove that obstacle. It may be as simple as giving them the authority to try something new, so give them reasonable boundaries to keep it safe-to-fail, and celebrate their results, whether or not it “succeeded.” What did they learn, and how can they iterate on it?

Need more suggestions to kickstart change? Get our Essential Survival Guide to organizational change.


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