Forget About the Low-Hanging Fruit

A reliable cliché in organizational change is the advice to "go after the low hanging fruit". This suggestion indicates seriously deficient knowledge about both horticultural and change management.

Contrary to the implication, low hanging fruit is the slowest to ripen. Who wants green, half developed fruit? In organizations, if a fix was easy to accomplish, it would have been done already. Don't waste any time on either.

Instead, start at the top of the tree, the hard to reach fruit; the most difficult problems. You will garner a lot more attention, respect and support for taking on the hard stuff. These are the issues and problems that have been avoided. They are also core problems that are likely causing a lot of ancillary difficulties throughout the organization, all the way down to that low-hanging fruit everyone is talking about.

You may have to convince the leadership team, and perhaps the board, of the wisdom of this ‘start at the top' approach. There are a range of reasons leaders prefer ‘go-slow' tactics. They may not have enough trust in you yet. Resistance will be more likely if you are in the early stages of building a personal and professional relationship. Difficult problems will likely require more internal change which is challenging and uncomfortable for in-place leaders. Tough problems also require full leadership attention and personal commitment which some leaders may not be willing to offer. They may be looking to leave the organization through retirement, rotating off or advancement. Working on difficult problems will also surface dysfunctionalities in the organizational structure, governance and leadership. These may have been buried or ignored for a long time. Some leaders might prefer to leave them there.

Don't be easily dissuaded by this foot-dragging. Leadership has brought you in for a reason. By now you have done the work to document the strategic choices that need to be made. Part of your job is to help leaders develop the internal fortitude to make and implement those choices. Try some or all the following: show the cost projections in time, fees and delayed ROI of the start-slow tactic versus a direct attack on the most central problems. Show how the supposed low-hanging fruit is a phantom and that focus on these peripheral, unripe concerns is a waste of time and resources. Suggest instead investing in the generation of change accelerants by targeting known higher-order problems. Talk about how time delays dissipate attention, commitment and energy across the whole organization. Demonstrate how a range of simpler concerns will disappear or be solved by resolution of tough central problems. You can also confidently promise a positive modeling effect: people throughout the organization will be empowered to fix a lot more on their own when shown a model of their leaders effectively addressing the tough issues.

You are a change manager. Act like one.

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