- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

Initiative fatigue, leading to exhaustion, leading to switching off

Many organizations seem to run layers of parallel initiatives, all directed at noble goals, and in many cases, without talking to each other. My retrospective and un-scientific count on these in my clients of the last 10 years, which I did a while ago, showed an average of 7 per organization.  I identified Communication programmes, Employee Engagement, Values and Leadership model/programmes, Continuous Improvement, Talent Management, Change Management, Cultural Change, Innovation programme, Idea Management, ERP implementation, Corporate Social Responsibility programmes, Diversity and Inclusion, Six-Sigma, Simplicity Programmes, Agile and several others. The situation has not changed much over the years.

The corporate environment is today pretty cluttered. Leaders of each initiative have a vested interest in each of them, and tend to look at them in isolation. Years ago, I challenged a VP of Safety about how ‘our’ programme should have an impact on innovation. He said, ‘Maybe, but I am not in charge of Innovation’. I regularly gather similar examples in my work.

Unfortunately, it’s very frequent to find that nobody, certainly not even the CEO, is able to put all these initiatives together into a single strategy. To make sense of them all together. I ask the question many times ‘Where is the glue?’ but often I am met with a smile. Also, each initiative runs at its own pace, some travel very fast, some slow, some are transient, some appear and disappear for a while, resuscitating again at a later point in time.

The effect of this situation on the average employee is multiple. Some good (it may provide additional sources of employee engagement), some bad (mistaking the initiative as a tool with the overall company strategy in itself) But the most worrying effect is the saturation of channels. At some point, the mind switches off. It has enough. All becomes ‘noise’ and the ‘signal’ is indistinguishable. Not only is this bad, on its own merit, for all the respective initiatives, but it also injects a great, new stumbling block. From that point on, any new ‘serious’ initiative will have a big mountain to climb and may be mentally written off before it has even started. ‘Here we go again’ becomes the default thinking position.

I have written many times (Disruptive Ideas) that one of the key functions of top leadership is to de-clutter. De-cluttering is a stronger term than simplifying. It literally means killing initiatives. The slight problem is that we are asking the same leaders who clutter the environment, to de-clutter it. That said, de-cluttering should be well rewarded. It keeps communication channels with employees very clean and active, so that the magic currency of ‘attention’ can actually flow, is key to engagement, then the price to pay is to list initiatives and one by one submit them to serious scrutiny. I call it Corporate Spring Cleaning. It works. And it has huge therapeutic effects.