Over-committed to chaos
With the best of intentions, a company can easily commit to a dozen strategic initiatives. Of course, it can also launch 5 operational improvement programs simultaneously. Why wouldn’t they also add two major systems overhauls into the mix as well? Why not, indeed?
Increasingly we are seeing our clients buckle under the weight and chaos of the “best-of-intentions” and unintended over-commitment. This is not a concern for our age but a concern for all ages. The reason we know this is we have seen it, time and again, when clients begin to lose sight of their strategic intent because they are buried under a mound of self-selected priorities.
Getting out from under a mountain of concerns should be the first order of business.
Several years ago, we were invited to provide some analysis at the corporate headquarters of a company based in the Western United States. We were asked to assess why they couldn’t seem to get any of their strategic and operational priorities across the line, specifically they felt that their strategy implementation had stalled out. There was internal finger-pointing, bitterness, and frustration. After all, these were smart people at the top of their game, leading a whole lot of other smart people. What was going on?
We took a month to conduct our assessment. We looked at the organization structure. We examined programs, processes, and projects. We interviewed all the leaders and many of the people in the 500-person corporate offices. After much exploration we had our answers and prepared our report for the top management team.
“How many projects and initiatives do you have currently sponsored, funded, and underway?”, we asked. The answers started to fly. “Oh, at least a dozen,” said the first leader. This caused some laughter around the room, everyone knew he was always the wild-eyed idealist. The next answer was called out, “More than fifty.” Heads turned. Yet another noted, “Yeah, that’s too small a number by about a factor of two.” There was general rumbling at the notion that they would have over one hundred projects in hand.
Not wanting to leave them in suspense, we landed the number. “You have eight hundred and sixty-three named, sponsored, funded, and (supposedly) operating projects in the mix. The ratio of projects to people is 1.7 to 1. Is it any wonder you feel like nothing is getting done and you are marking time? That is because very little is – and you definitely are.”
Well-intentioned people thinking they can and should do it all
What happened to this organization is happening everywhere. Well-intentioned people, in the absence of a shared and strong understanding of their organization’s strategic intent combined with a haphazard approach to prioritization, are over-committing themselves and their organizations to work that they will never get done. Or won’t complete without a whole lot of collateral damage. The chaos of over commitment is playing havoc with the effectiveness of organizations large and small.
Before going any further with this leadership team, we had to help them understand and get control of the things that were most important to them. We revisited their strategy. What were they trying to become? What was important for them to achieve to realize their strategic vision? Where were they starting from? With answers to these questions, we could begin the process of prioritization and effective action planning using one of our marquee processes: Situation Appraisal.
Situation Appraisal is a rational process for systematically planning the resolution of concerns. (As a side note: a concern is something about which we feel a need to act, and we can.) The result of a Situation Appraisal is:
- List of concerns that is clear and complete,
- Action plans for resolving the concerns, including who will do what and by when, and
- The effective and efficient use of input from appropriate stakeholders to complete the Situation Appraisal.
The path to effective prioritization requires a commitment to making our current circumstances visible and the will to make hard choices when we truly understand what matters most to our future success.
For our client in the American West, that journey was not without some heartache as pet projects and long-running initiatives were halted or mothballed to make way for a critical few. The conversations were challenging but because we used a systematic approach and the data within the organization to inform our work, we managed to guide them to a good outcome.
When you think about your organization and your priorities do you really know what you have committed to? If not, have we got a process for you.