A Twitter conversation between people I respect has caused me to want to explore the issue of initiative overload in organisations.
I need to make some assumptions explicit as part of this exploration, and these have to be simplified and not reflecting the variety that you see in any organisations. So imagine a simplified organisation with 100 people. 10 initiatives are proposed. Each initiative will succeed if it has strong sponsorship and 50% of the people are behind it. Initiatives get started with at least medium sponsorship and at least 25% support. Support for the 10 initiatives is fairly evenly spread across the population. Each person supporting only 3 initiatives, because they know through experience that this is the maximum that they can cope with. (This means that every initiative has 30 "votes".) Perhaps the most important assumption of all is that whilst the leadership of the organisation can impose their choice, success of initiatives that do not have sufficient internal support is usually short lived.
So, in this organisation all 10 iniatives could get started but none completed and eveyone operating above their "iniatives limit" i.e. stressed.
What do you think of the analysis? What about the assumptions? Are some stupid, naive, or unrealistic? Are there some important assumptions unstated? What parameters are completely wrong - can people cope with 5 not 3 organisation wide initiatives? How would you restate the assumptions to make them more realistic?
Having re-articulated the assumptions to your satisfaction, do you recognize the condition in practice?
If so, what can we do about it? Press on regardless does not seem a reasonable option? I feel that it would be sensible to surface and agree the values of the key parameters then work within them. But working within the parameters in my artificial case means choosing a maximum of three initiatives and getting the support for them increased from maybe 30% to over 50%, presumably through persuasion and trade offs. Some compromise is needed by virtually everyone.
It maybe that social media has a part to play here. If there were a place where the case for each initiative could be shared, discussed, challenged and maybe improved, it is possible that some would change their minds voluntarily, some would see support for their favoured initiatives dwindle and with good or poor grace switch allegiance. Cases might be made that a particular initiative would be more successful after another had succeeded. In any case, it may be possible for leadership intervention to succeed in reducing the options further from, say, 6 to the necessary3. Why would this succeed given what I said before about leadership unilateral action? Well it would not be unilateral action. Leadership would have decided after all who wanted to do had aired their views, and if the leadership could demonstrate that they had listened and that their own thoughts on options had been swayed, it is likely that their action would create greater support for the chosen options.
Of the assumptions I've made above, the two most important are:
- Initiatives don't succeed long term without sufficient support from the members of the organisation
- Everyone has a limit to the number of internal initiatives that they can cope with and that imposes a limit on the number of organisation wide initiatives that should be attempted.
Discovering what the "organisation initiatives limit" is would seem to be an important consideration for leadership. Maybe good leaders have a feel for the answer intuitively? Maybe they are able to increase that limit for their organisation?