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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Less Activity Makes Organizations More Effective

By Jay Freeman

This post is part of Gallup's ongoing series on the shifting landscape for financial institutions. It provides insights into channel optimization, emerging customer behaviors and preferences, product penetration and relationship growth, engaging the most critical affluent and business customers, and reshaping banks' overall value proposition.

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I met with a client yesterday who had an all-too-common complaint. She asked for our ideas on creating a stronger leadership development program, and we obliged by sharing some practices we have seen work well in other organizations. Our client gave us a wry smile and said that her company has done many of the things we were suggesting, but that the effort produced little or no benefit. Her frustration was palpable as she described her organization’s “check the box” mentality.

Many leaders have a clear vision for where they want to take their organization, but find that for all their effort at change, they are still at “base camp.” It frustrates these visionaries to see effort going to waste with little progress to show. They want to know how they can get their people to not only do the activities, but also get the desired result from them.

As rational as we like to think we are, behavioral science put us in touch with the less rational biases embedded in our thought processes. Among these is a bias for action. That is, we are innately inclined to act in the face of stimulus. When faced with a situation that is imperfect or flawed, we believe “something must be done,” and we feel better when we do it. Unfortunately, action is sometimes misinterpreted as progress. While activity is a necessary ingredient for change, only effective activity produces results.

Activity X Effectiveness = Results

If your organization is struggling with this challenge, consider the following:
  1. More is not usually the answer. Time and time again I see organizations try an activity and when it yields poor results, ditch it and try something new. What is worse, some organizations will heap one activity on another activity that has failed to produce, causing a logjam of competing priorities. 
  2. Less may be more. If you are in an activity-based logjam, give careful thought to which among the activities are the most important, and be prepared to abandon those that are less critical to allow time to focus on the more important activities.
  3. Study success. If an activity is not universally producing successful results, it may be that there are some pockets of successful implementation. If so, become very curious about what is contributing to effectiveness. There may be an insight which can be applied to the broader organization.
  4. Be patient. Sometimes adoption takes time. I counsel clients that, to see the full impact of change management stimulus, it can take as long as 18 months to two years.
Change is never easy and many who promote change find themselves stuck at base camp. By focusing equally on activities and effectiveness, your organization will find a balanced formula for success.


kim britton said...
November 15, 2013 at 5:19 AM  

Matrix structures are the death of progress!

Cathi Alloway said...
November 15, 2013 at 6:39 AM  

This is very applicable to my field - nonprofit, public libraries. Librarians tend to take on too many projects in their eagerness to serve the entire community. Focusing on strengths and not piling on more and more activities is key to smooth operations.

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