Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success

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More change please, less projects

The goal of every organisation, in every country, every year is to continue to do the things it's good at and improve the things it's not so good at.  This will keep the money coming in, give you a good chance to make more money or give you enough to keep you in business (even if you're a charity or not for profit).  You can't just sit there and expect everything that you've done the previous year to work perfectly again the following year.

And yet, I worked for one organisation that had no strategy.  Can you imagine that, working for a company that had no plan for what its future success looked like?  No vision, no stated purpose, no 'look how bold we are' statement to attract the best people.  And guess what? Staff engagement was at an all time low and they couldn't understand why.

They were, however, great at listing the projects they needed to do every year.  Of course, they had no future state to link them to though, so it was just a bunch of things they felt they should do, that they didn't do last year or had been demanded on a whim by someone in higher authority.

But like a lot of organisations, there were too many of them.  So pressure was applied to staff to get projects delivered.  And before they could finish them, more were added.  And actually they didn't have enough staff to do them all, so they had to employ a lot of contractors, who cost millions of dollars.  Which could have been better spent developing their internal people to provide for better succession planning and improve morale.  But like I said, they had no view of what success looked like, so everything was a priority, which meant that nothing ever got finished because they didn't have enough people... and so on and so forth.

When something actually did get finished (a lot later and more expensive than first predicted), there was a lot of back slapping and rooftop shouting, but then they made the fatal error of not ensuring that the change required from that project was actually realised, because everyone was off and working on the latest top priority initiative.  So they actually spent 12 months and millions of dollars staying the same or just getting worse, whilst losing a good proportion of its good staff along the way.

Call it what you want - business planning or portfolio management - at the end of the day it's the people who run the organisation getting together and doing what they're paid to do. Arguing the toss over what the goals for the company are for that year and making sure they only take on those things that will allow them to achieve that.  Do the projects well (allowing time for good planning of course) but then make sure something changes to improve what you do and make sure your business as usual work is about making things better too.

When I first started work as a bank clerk, the manager constantly reminded us that 'if what we do is not going to make the bank better or richer, then don't do it'.  Which is why I stopped drinking Pernod.

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