By Art Petty
One of the value killers found inside many organizations is the out of control pursuit of too many new initiatives. The resultant too few resources chasing too many projects, is a sure-fire way to create organizational stress as initiatives fall short, inefficiencies skyrocket and employees, stakeholders and customers grow perturbed.
In one client firm, the sure-fire path to success was to attach oneself to as many high visibility initiatives as possible, in the hope of being associated with the success of one of them. It was a political portfolio game, with most projects flailing and failing. Nonetheless, the politically charged environment and the visible path to success catalyzed a seemingly endless number of new initiatives designed to optimize the visibility and executive attachment of the idea generator without really focusing on solving critical problems.
The root cause of this undisciplined pursuit of new initiatives rests squarely on the collective shoulders of the management team. Both success and struggle are equal opportunity contributors to this situation.
Success generates the ego that tells management, “we can do no wrong,” and struggle or strategy disappointment (either the idea or the execution) generates political flailing that rationalizes the search for a quick fix.
Another team rationalized maneuvers several degrees off of a still-evolving core strategy in the name of revenue coverage. “Until we figure out the strategy, we’ve got to show growth,” was their mantra. Their lack of discipline led to to a collection of disparate initiatives that struggled for room to breathe in an environment where every idea was good and no ideas attached to revenue were turned away. They failed.
Effective management teams learn to recognize the signs of a breakdown in discipline and they redouble their efforts to promote clarity and minimize the tendency to fill ambiguity with unqualified activities.
These groups recognize the dangers of hubris born of success (Jim Collins) or the tendency to flail in search of quick answers when things go wrong. They understand that they are accountable for setting direction and ensuring that each and every choice to apply company resources must create the right kind of value. And they accept that determining just what the right kind of value truly is, is an exercise that can only be resolved through debate and deliberation.
One particularly effective management team holds themselves accountable to evaluating ideas against the filter of, “Does it create the right kind of value?” They live by the mantra that not every dollar of revenue is created equal, and they’ve learned to separate interesting ideas from ideas that move them closer towards a desired future state (new markets or new customers). They’ve also learned to effectively and passionately make a case for new ideas and then make a decision and move forward. They credit their success to the senior executive who has worked tirelessly to depoliticize their environment and focus them on moving towards the future.
The Bottom-Line for Now
Whether you sit on the senior management team or you sit in the middle of the organization where the real work takes place, strive to cultivate intelligent filters for new initiatives. Anchor to key corporate goals and strategies, and always ensure that your initiatives connect to a real customer…not a customer of myth or imagination.
Ideas are wonderful and you don’t want to stifle their generation, however, not every idea deserves to turn into an initiative. Choose carefully. You need just enough to push the team or organization forward and not too many to promote distress. If the people around you are running around trying to keep the spinning plates from wobbling off of their sticks and crashing to the ground, it’s time to reassess.
Art Petty is a 25+ year experienced marketing and sales executive in business intelligence software, retail automation, life-safety and building automation markets.
Over his many years of leading and building businesses into market leaders, Petty is most proud of the many great professionals that have graced his teams and have gone on to tremendous careers and accomplishments of their own.
Petty’s runs Strategy Management Innovations, LLC, a management consulting firm serving Business to Business and Technology organizations.
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