Too Many Projects
By Rose HollisterMichael D. Watkins on hbr.org
If “the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do,” as Michael Porter famously said in a seminal HBR article, then the essence of execution is truly not doing it. That sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly hard for organizations to kill existing initiatives, even when they don’t align with new strategies. Instead, leaders keep layering on initiatives, which can lead to severe overload at levels below the executive team.
Sometimes leaders are unaware of all the initiatives under way and their impact on the organization. In other cases organizational politics conspires to let initiatives continue long after they should have run their course. Either way, overload can result in costly productivity and quality problems and employee burnout. With record low unemployment, companies that do not adjust the workload are also at risk of losing valuable talent. One leader who used to head up talent consulting at a human capital firm told us in an interview, “While I enjoyed and respected my team and found the work motivating, the pace was unsustainable. I chose to leave before I had a heart attack.”
In many organizations, the alarm bells for initiative overload ring when engagement survey results drop or turnover levels rise—or both. At one Fortune 500 retail company, for example, internal studies showed that store managers had more duties than they could accomplish in a standard workweek. Instead of moderating the demands of the job, their bosses expected them to prioritize and juggle. Yet with business results faltering and customer service scores declining, the senior executive team realized that a new approach was needed and recommended that a task force of high-potential leaders assess the impact of initiatives on frontline store managers.
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