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Boosting "Big Mo"

Momentum isn't as mysterious as it seems -- you just need to manage for it, like anything else. Here's how.
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For the past few weeks, Americans of all political persuasions have been following the Republican and Democratic conventions. And what’s the big question dogging the candidates? It’s all about momentum. Will the candidates have any momentum coming out of the conventions, and if they do, will they be able to sustain it? Or will they get a slight spark and then fizzle out?

Is that so different from your world?  Not really.

“The project lost momentum. That is the long and short of it.”

You’ve probably heard or said something to this effect about some aspect of your business in the past year. "Momentum" is one of those words that will cause everyone to shake their head with understanding. Unfortunately, their understanding is probably not terribly clear. Momentum is often regarded as a monolithic and mystical “Big Mo.” But is it as mystical as all that? Is momentum all that monolithic? All that mystical?

No. Momentum is something you manage for, just like anything else. As I write in Keep Them on Your Side: Leading and Managing for Momentum, away from the limelight, the best leaders are managing for momentum. They know that in order to control the Big Mo, they need to manage the four dimensions of momentum. This will help their initiative stay on track, stay on people’s radar, and keep winning support.

1.  Maintain resources and capacity. Sustaining momentum demands that you understand what others need in order to get the job done. Often, when trying to keep things moving, leaders fail to give people the capacity they need to move ahead. You need to consider the resources that are needed, who will do what, and how they’ll get it done.

2. Monitor and make adjustments. As you move closer to your goal, you’ll have to make corrections and adjustments to ensure sustain your momentum. Things don’t keep moving on their own. Even after you’ve organized everything the way you think it should operate, you’ve decided who does what and when, and you know who should make decisions, circumstances may change or new information may emerge.  If you don’t correct and make adjustments, your project will get bogged down.

3. Motivate to sustain focus. To sustain your company’s momentum, you have to engage everyone by reinforcing their sense of commitment and their spirit of collective, celebrating what brought you together in the first place. 

4. Anticipate opposition. There are always naysayers. At first, they may have thought you had a good idea. Now, they openly question whether you are doing things the right way. Maintaining momentum can test your political instincts. Leaders capable of sustaining political momentum are conflict managers. They know how to mobilize, but they also know whom to exclude. They know how to make room for criticism and discussion and know how to avoid conflict and resistance.

If you want to create change and move projects ahead, each dimension of the Big Mo is vital. Effective leaders who are able to manage their own momentum are constantly aware of what it will take to move ahead.

Last updated: Sep 12, 2012

SAMUEL B. BACHARACH | Columnist | Director, Cornell's Institute of Workplace Studies

Samuel B. Bacharach is the McKelvey-Grant professor in the department of organizational behavior at Cornell University's ILR School, and is director of Cornell's Institute for Workplace Studies in New York City. Among his books are Get Them on Your Side and Keep Them on Your Side. His latest volume, A Good Idea Is Not Enough: Leading for Change and Innovation, will be published this November by BLG.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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