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Low hanging fruit give you stomach ache?

Taking the ‘low hanging fruit’ is a well established change management phrase. The idea is to tuck some ‘easy’ results under your belt to get some traction in your change initiative.

I’m all for building belief throughout the organisation by demonstrating that the promised change is happening. It’s core to all my change work, as many people aren’t instant converts and need to see change to believe in it. But the trouble with stock ideas that anyone can latch on to, is that people can think they know what the phrase means without having any depth of knowledge behind the meaning. Watching CSI doesn’t make you capable of investigating a crime for example, even though you will hear a lot of ‘real’ terminology. I wonder whether ‘low hanging fruit’ has become misunderstood or misused?

The key to low hanging fruit is to know that the fruit is good for you. Just as nature can hide poison in a pretty casing, organisational low hanging fruit may look tempting but may not be helpful for the change you need.

How often have you seen a new leader declare that a particular thing is to be changed & then find themselves embroiled in associated issues? Often an obvious change has many less obvious threads attached to it e.g. connected processes, IT patches or previously agreed HR entitlements. Picking that first thread can quickly start to unravel the organisation and take up too much of the leader’s time. Soon you find that change then dictates the changes that follow and ultimately, more patches, more process fixes and addendum’s to HR agreements and not the reengineering the leader envisioned, promised the board and was brought in for.

So how can ‘low hanging fruit’ go wrong and how can you avoid it?

The world we live in expects results rapidly and sometimes immediately (I coach executives in their first 90 days and find that many organisations believe that 90 days is way too long and want strategic decisions in weeks!). This can mean that there is pressure to achieve a quick result and quick results are sought in the ‘obvious’ rather than ‘the best’. Picking the obvious low hanging fruit may mean that you stay on the outskirts and don’t walk further in to the forest and find the more nourishing options.

If you want to avoid the problem you have to remember some good change principles. One of those is diagnosis. Whether the change is to processes, culture, systems, structure (and if you want real change you cant do one without the other, but lets not digress), you need to take a good look at what the organisation does, how it does it and why it does it that way. Unfortunately diagnostics take time, effort and a bit of investment, and all of those are often in short supply. But don’t let that get in the way of the principle of taking a good look at the business before you kick off the change.

If the benefit of low hanging fruit is to demonstrate that change is happening so that your people engage with change and therefore get more impetus to the change then each change that you make needs to be one you’ve promised and each change must be an obvious contribution to the overall purpose of the change programme.

To state that simply, why pick a peach when you’ve promised an apple pie!

So get clear on your vision, diagnose what you have, look at what needs changed and lo and behold the really beneficial low hanging fruit will become more obvious to you.
Then when you pick it, everyone will know why you’ve picked it and your change programme gets the credibility that low hanging fruit is meant to get you.

And no stomach aches!

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One Response to “Low hanging fruit give you stomach ache?”

Heather Stagl says:

Great point! Although we value quick action, ultimately your integrity will take a hit if:

You have to reverse one of the low hanging fruit decisions or

You later have to take action out of alignment with a previous rash (low hanging fruit) decision.