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Avoid mistakes by learning from the past

This may come as a shock, but this initiative is probably not the first in your organization. This may be the first D&I initiative or the first initiative out of the Talent Acquisition department (or not), but it is certainly not the first project the organization has ever taken on.

With past experience comes past wisdoms – both what works well for the organization and what falls flat. So, rather than rediscover all the pitfalls and tricks, learn from those that came before.

1. Find the learning opportunities

Identify three similar projects/initiatives in the last three years that were successful. They can be similar in scope, size, stakeholder involvement, budget, departments involved, visibility, or any other number of facets. As long as there are overlaps, there is value.

Identify three similar projects/initiatives in the last three years that failed. Failure at any stage has value. From those that failed to get off the ground, to those that fizzled out in the middle, to those that never managed to cross the finish line.

Once you have your previous projects/initiatives, find the stakeholders. Get as many perspectives as you can – the initiative owner/leaders, executive sponsors, participants, opposition.

2. Ask questions

When talking to stakeholders about the project, who’s involved in the conversation will influence the responses. It may be better to have them as a group or to speak individually to them. If possible, talk over coffee or in a venue outside the office to put the other person at ease and allow them to speak more freely.

Here are some questions to ask:

  1. What went well with the initiative?

  2. What did not go well?

  3. What do you think were the top reasons for success (or failure) of the initiative?

  4. What do you think were the top things that, had they happened, would have caused the success (or failure) of the initiative?

  5. What would you do differently if you had to do it again?

  6. What do you wish you knew before you got involved in the initiative?

  7. What else should I know?

3. Apply the lessons

Said once, it’s an interesting tidbit. Said twice, it’s something to consider. Said more than twice and it’s a pattern that will give you potentially valuable insight into the organization.

Look to apply repeated patterns of success into your plans and actions. And look to remove or mitigate patterns of failure.

And, don’t do it alone.

Communicate the findings to your team and stakeholders (using anonymity to protect the sources when appropriate). If the team is aware of the success drivers and challenges of past projects, they become part of the solution to leveraging/avoiding those patterns for your initiative.

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