The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Beginnings are important in business. It might be the start of a new calendar or financial year, or the launch of a new initiative. Often we get straight into the launch and problems arise.

Issues we didn’t anticipate are particularly annoying. We may not be able to eliminate all the issues associated with initiatives, but we can always do a better job in the pre-launch phase.

Here are three handy questions to contemplate in the early planning stage, as you toss around some ideas for the next big thing:

1. Are your team members ready?
Everyone is usually busy and many feel like, “I am busy enough already thank you very much!” Their attitude toward doing more may be negative and resistant. Just dropping another new project into their laps may not garner the commitment needed to complete the task, in the given time frame and within budget.

You may be highly motivated, mainly because it is your idea and you have a really strong grasp of the “why” behind the initiative. The rest of the team may just view this as more work, relegated to the same level of importance as all the other things they are already doing.

Communication skills become important at this point.

We need to be persuasive about the vision of a better future for the team and the enterprise. We need to be clear about what we are going to do and not going to do in this project—the mission needs to be defined and separated from the other work already underway.

Leaders’ presumptions are often the killer of successful outcomes. The “why”—and none of the when, where, what, and how—needs to be the starting point. Assuming all team members know the “why” is a fatal mistake that can come back to haunt us when the project tanks and desired outcomes are not achieved.

2. Are the team members willing to put in the time and effort?
“They get paid to be willing and able, don’t they?”

This may be true, but that is not enough. We want self-motivation, ownership, self-accountability, delegation, and self-leadership.

Staff will not automatically exhibit the behaviors that show a willingness to go the extra mile to get this done or the fortitude to keep going when things get tough. We need to anticipate that competing priorities will cloud the issues at hand.

Staff will only step up because they have been convinced of the urgency and priority of the project. The big picture must be boiled down to micro tasks that are prerequisites for successful outcomes. That requires arousing enthusiasm in the team to embrace change.

Few people want to change, mainly because they are deeply entrenched in the foxhole of their comfort zone. Enticing people to step out into the world of the new and risky requires extra efforts to communicate a better future.

So we must dedicate sufficient time to explain and also to check for understanding, buy-in, and enthusiasm.

3. Is the team able to succeed? Do they have the resources necessary?
Often, our time is the most valuable resource, and we are miserly in offering it, because we are so overwhelmed by what we are trying to check off the to-do list.

We mistake dumping for delegation and then wonder why things go wrong. We need to factor leaders’ time into the equation from the start and make sure they are accessible to staff.

Also, check if any special training is needed to bolster skill sets, to ensure tasks get completed correctly.

And ask: are there any internal barriers to cooperation with other groups? Are there any logistical elements like equipment or space that need to be proffered so the project glides along smoothly? Has decision-making authority been pushed far enough down the line to ensure team members are feeling empowered to run this themselves?

Picking apart failure is no fun, and can feel like a burden. Better to dedicate some time for hard thinking at the start, rather than hard thinking at the end about where everything went wrong.