Saturday, 30 July 2011

Shooting from the Hip

I recently caught up with a friend who I hadn’t seen for some time. When I asked how he was doing, his  response was ‘I am just so ridiculously busy. Priorities change almost hourly, there are just not enough hours in the day.’ You wonder where he works? For a relief agency dealing with famine in Africa maybe? A fire fighter dealing with massive forest fires? Or News International’s PR agency? Had he worked for any of these, we’d probably all understand his predicament.

But no, the friend concerned works for a multinational, as a senior member of staff in a corporate department. No fires to fight, no immediate issues around malnutrition to solve, or indeed any reputation issues to salvage. In fact, the situation couldn’t be more steady. And yet, ‘priorities change almost hourly’.

Having heard his predicament, I couldn’t resist a tongue in cheek response: 'But surely, the company has defined its vision and values, has a strategy, and priorities are simply aligned with these?’. He looked at me as if I had spoken in a foreign language….

Sadly though, many of you will recognise this situation, and I suspect most of you also work for companies where the ‘Vision and Values to Strategy to Policy’ principle ought to be working. So why doesn’t it? Why do organisations often show such poor discipline when it comes to their day-to-day activities, leading to overworked, frustrated and confused employees, and, dare I say it, huge inefficiencies and wasting of resources.

As always, there isn’t one simple answer. But in general terms, it is often a matter of people, usually very senior ones, being allowed to put into practice ideas (I purposely refrain from calling them policies or strategies) as they see fit. Often abandoning work in progress with the click of a mouse, and / or following fads not because these fit with what the company has set out to do, but just because they want to. Or because they identify a problem they believe needs immediate attention, and rather than analysing it properly and looking for a sustainable solution, they stick a short term plaster, meaning that in the not too distant future, the issue will probably be a priority again.

I have seen this in action many times, for example when reporting Engagement Survey Findings to Senior Boards. Their response to a reported area for attention would often include comments such as ‘well let’s set up an action track to deal with that’ or ‘let’s get a focus group together to see how we can best tackle this.’ Shooting from the hip, when clearly, they ought to know better.

So next time your organisation faces a serious issue, try and take a step back, and properly analyse what the problem is. My bet is that the vast majority can be aligned with the path your organisation has already set out to go. Align your challenges with this strategy, and empower people to deal with these at the right levels. And one day you may even find yourself having some spare time. Spare time you can use to think about the real issues. Or go home on time for once!

Ruud Jansen Venneboer, Managing Partner Think the Unthinkable