Initiative Overload: Is Less Really More?

How many of us are already on initiative overload and it’s the third week of January? It seems the economy and the need to sustain business has catapulted leadership to focus on too many “things” right out of the gates. New tools, new processes, new roles, new strategies, new products, new programs. While some of these might be necessary, I think we have lost our ability to prioritize.

Prioritization takes a huge amount of discipline. Many of us can see 50 feet in front and know what needs to be done to be successful. But, we only have so many resources to get it done. I don’t think a person can be successful if they are so splintered.

One of my favorite quotes I learned in business years ago is: “What gets measured, gets done.” Measurement takes a lot of effort. I mean true measurement. Not just logins, hits or activities but true measurement of success based on business goals.

I argue that focusing on 3 real priorities with real plans, measures and follow-up will yield more success than having a list of 20 projects to do. But, sometimes, that philosophy is not embraced. Being busy and churning out work justifies our existence. But, does it?

Establishing performance measures tied to business results will force a conversation about prioritization. It all starts there. Many of us will have to lobby for the less is more approach, and you can do so by showing what will be measured and what impact the less approach will generate vs. an endless task list.

My hope for this new decade is a focus on less. Less is better. Less is achievable. Less is necessary.

Should I Measure if No One Asks?

I have seen many measurement models to determine the value of knowledge management and learning. The trick is to have a methodology to measure whatever you say will be the result. Many of you are probably saying: “Of course! This is nothing we don’t know.” You’d be surprised how simple and oftentimes that important point is missed. If you say you will save time, then you need a baseline and post-measure of time spent. If you say you’ll move the financial needle either in cost savings or revenue generation, then be careful what you state. You will have to measure that!

I have noticed in today’s fast-paced environment, some leaders don’t have a tolerance for capturing a baseline. They are okay with just surveying people afterward to see if they are satisfied with the new tools. On one hand, we could feel blessed that we are not always asked to prove ROI as that is a difficult thing to do. However, spending a little time to capture a baseline is a battle worth fighting.

Even if management doesn’t ask for measurement, do it. You never know when you might be asked down the line. “How successful was that intranet re-design?” “Do we know how much time people actually saved with these tools?” I have been in that situation before where measures weren’t expected but then a year later, an executive wanted to report on results to the board or upper management.

Two Rules of Thumb

DON’T attempt to measure ROI or IRR unless it is required. (I know…the easy way out but there is no reason to cause yourself undue pain. However, get agreement on this up front!)
DO set up activity, usage, time, satisfaction and other targets before you begin making changes and measure after changes have been implemented. If nothing else, you have evidence in your hip pocket  should you need it.

Return to Empowerment

KeysIn today’s tough environment, it is easy for us to go on lock-down and have leaders dictate to everyone not only what to do but how to do it. I urge all people managers, no matter what level, to resist that urge.

People are disengaged and demotivated enough with their friends and colleagues being let go on a quarterly basis, entire fields drying up, and unemployment benefits running out, without a manager suddenly going “micro” on them.

People are looking for ways to find their motivation in these times so the best way to help your people do that is to treat them the way you always have – with respect, listening to all new ideas whether they can be implemented or not, allowing them to problem-solve on their own without the dark shadow of management looming over their left shoulder.

Try not to commit these mistakes in tough times:

Start requiring ROI on everything I realize we need quick payback periods and we should always try to prove a return on an investment but we need to be reasonable. If we want to make capital investments, then, yes, require that. But, if an employee wants to start a new community or lunch n’ learn group that requires time not hard dollars, what’s the harm in letting them run?

Start requiring weekly activity reports There’s nothing more taxing than weekly activity reports. Try quick weekly status update meetings where people can report but also ask questions. Or, use social software, like a wiki, for quick and easy posts. Don’t make someone complete a complicated Excel spreadsheet when simple and quick will do.

Stop learning opportunities In times like these travel dollars are slashed and conference attendances become non-existent. I do think conferences need to explore more virtual opportunities but they are also providing discounts and even travel vouchers to get people in the door.  Don’t eliminate this!  However, maximize the investment by asking attendees to summarize their findings and report to a larger group what they learned. Ask them to network at conferences to increase potential prospects for your business. And, definitely, sign up for free webinars whenever possible.