Alternative Selection Warning Flag 1 – Too Many Initiatives

StrategyDriven Alternative Selection Warning FlagContemporary business leaders embrace the mantra of continually doing more with less. Each and every day, managers and employees are challenged to produce ever-increasing quantities of goods and services at higher and higher quality levels. All other things remaining equal, there are limits to what any individual or workgroup can do. Beyond these limits, output declines and quality suffers.[wcm_restrict plans=”40782, 25542, 25653″]

Aggressive strategic planning often represents one source of significant additional work. When this occurs, an already fully engaged organization can become overwhelmed with the multitude of new initiatives requiring dedicated attention, a significant demand on contributors’ time given the creative nature of this type of work. Furthermore, each initiative will demand some degree of change on the part of affected personnel; consuming yet more of their precious time.

Human capacity is not limitless. For example, communications are commonly restricted to three main points to accommodate an individual’s limited attention span and studies have shown that a manager can, on average, effectively oversee the operational performance of only seven employees.

There are many reasons why leaders push to do more with the same or fewer resources. The alternative selection portion of the strategic planning program is one such driver. Long-term business success, however, demands that leaders recognize and respect the limitations of their organization and its members. While not all inclusive, the four lists below, Process-Based Warning Flags, Process Execution Warning Flags – Behaviors, Potential, Observable Results, and Potential Causes, are designed to help leaders recognize when they are at risk of exceeding these limitations. Only after a problem is recognized and its causes identified can the needed action be taken to move the organization toward improved performance.

Process-Based Warning Flags

  • Strategic planning procedures limit the selection and pursuit of new initiatives only by the amount of financial resources available without appropriately accounting for the organization’s human resource capacity limitations
  • Alternative selection processes assign ranks initiative importance relative to each other without consideration of mission goal support
  • Business planning protocols require a defined number of initiatives be pursued during any given period of time
  • Strategic planning procedures demand each business unit pursue a given number of initiatives within a defined timeframe, typically one year, rather than focusing initiative selection on overarching organizational goals (See StrategyDriven article, Strategic Planning Warning Flag – Business Unit versus Goal-Based Planning)
  • Business units have differing (not integrated) strategic planning processes generating initiatives requiring support from other work centers
  • Executive and managerial performance evaluation systems drives the need for these individuals to demonstrate personal capability by leading and/or participating in large projects
  • Promotion criteria favors those leading and/or participating in strategic initiatives
  • Annual bonus program protocols favor those leading or participating in strategic initiatives

Process Execution Warning Flags – Behaviors

  • Leaders focus primarily on financial resources when considering whether or not to advance an initiative
  • Board members and C-suite executives use initiative leadership for executive positional needs justification, value contribution identification, managerial performance demonstration, and rewards and promotions decisions
  • Executives and managers demand leadership and/or participation in strategic initiatives as a way of demonstrating individual value contribution
  • Managers demand significant levels of personal discretionary effort
  • Managers do not account for work not performed in the company’s workplace (i.e. work performed remotely)

Potential, Observable Results

  • Rising individual and organizational stress (See StrategyDriven article, Corporate Cultures – How Stressful is Your Workplace Environment?)
  • Increased personnel error rates
  • Diminished operational performance evident through lower productivity, more rework, and increased quality defects
  • Increased customer dissatisfaction, higher warrantee return rates, and reduced sales
  • Delays in implementing strategic initiatives
  • Elevated resistance to strategic initiative implementation
  • Diminished initiative outcomes stemming from a lack of creative input resulting in limited differentiation of output relative to competitors’ efforts
  • Elevated employee attrition from being over-worked
  • Damaged corporate reputation

Potential Causes

  • Executives and managers feeling of self-worth aligned with leadership and participation in strategic initiatives
  • Inappropriate desire to invest all of the organization’s excess resources, particularly monetary resources, in initiatives until fully depleted
  • Misinterpretation of marketplace drivers fosters a belief that an excessive number of initiatives must be undertaken
  • Failure to balance the desire to take action with an acknowledgement of resource availability and the organization’s capacity to change
  • Overzealous, get it done at all costs approach
  • Incessant drive to always do more with less focused on human work output and ignoring upgrades to the organization, processes, and technologies needed to yield further improvements

Final Thought

The Too Many Initiatives warning flag is not to suggest that leaders should stop driving their organizations and its members to do more. Rather, it is a caution to reasonably balance the desire to achieve more with the limited capacity of the organization’s resources. All people, processes, and technologies have their limits. Pushing beyond these limits for extended periods of time will likely result in long-term, if not immediate, failures.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember plans=”40782, 25542, 25653″]

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About the Author

Nathan Ives, StrategyDriven Principal is a StrategyDriven Principal and Host of the StrategyDriven Podcast. For over twenty years, he has served as trusted advisor to executives and managers at dozens of Fortune 500 and smaller companies in the areas of management effectiveness, organizational development, and process improvement. To read Nathan’s complete biography, click here.

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