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How to Get Out of a Straight Jacket

Your key project: It’s too important to fail.

Yet nothing has happened on it for months. Every move you try seems fruitless.

You’re stuck. It’s like being in a straightjacket.

Identifying the specific challenge and knowing how to proceed is three-quarters of making forward progress. Use this tool to free up the resistance in your relationships, the clogged sinks on your to-do list, and traffic jams in your work-flow. Use these questions to discover the source of your difficulties, remove the straightjacket, and move to fast-forward.

1. Is the outcome truly desired?

Yes, No--Select a new goal.

Desirable: On occasion, we get stuck because we’re ambiguous about the outcome and its implications. Are you ready to listen to, for instance, what donors really think about of your organization?

2. Is the outcome realistic?

Yes, No--Redesign the goal.

Has the goal been done before in your nonprofit? Has it has been done more than once elsewhere in a similar setting?

3. Do you understand the actions necessary to create the outcome?

Yes, No--Determine required actions. Scope the engagement to determine 

If its been done before, the how can be discovered. The process may not be as easy at it looks. Investigate it carefully. Was it really just a matter of asking for help?

4. Do the people assigned possess the skills needed to execute them?

Yes, No--Teach the skills or obtain new personnel. 

Polished skills require know-how, practice, and in-the-field experience. Teach know-how and practice. Assign in-the-field experience.

5. Do the people assigned understand their responsibility and the actions necessary?

Yes, No--Responsibility: You pass the ball. The receivers understand they need to catch it. Clarify responsibilities. Assign progress deadlines.

6. Do the people assigned have time?

Yes, No--Re-assign priorities. Teach time management. Time constraints can arise from the organization’s structure or generated by the individual. Lack of time often receives the blame even though it’s often not the only culprit.

7. Do the people assigned take action?

Yes, No--Add rewards. Remove disincentives. Change personnel, if necessary.

Work with people who can be motivated. “Can they do it if a gun is pointed at their head?”

8. Do the actions provide anticipated outcomes?

Yes, No--Do analysis. Tweak the process. Remove discovered barriers and, if outcomes still fail, return to #3. You will find some solutions fail for reasons that become clear only in hindsight, such as designing a airplane satellite message system that can be manually turned-off. In other words, you can’t learn if it will really work for you until you do it.  

9. Do the actions provide the maximum results?

Yes, No--Conduct analysis. Study the excellence of others. Find synergies. Abandon if the opportunity costs remain higher than other options. Continue to work with these questions as a continuous loop to create speedy resolution and maximize results on your key project.

One of the most frustrating experiences of our working lives is being stuck and not knowing what wraps us in the straitjacket. Consider one important area in your work where you’re stuck. Use this decision tree to help you get your arms over your head so you can remove all the constraints that hold you back.

P.S. For fun, watch this one-minute video, Straight Jacket Escape. One of the keys to successfully getting out of a straight jacket is to make yourself as large as possible as you are being put in it. In life, therefore, breathe deeply and know that whatever comes your way, straightjacket or not, you can get unstuck. 


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