REFLECTION: Researchers in Switzerland and the UK have confirmed what I have long observed – that overload has as serious an impact on organizations as it does on individuals. Bruch and Menges studied 600 companies over the last decade and identified what they refer to as the Acceleration Trap.
The trap is the result of corporations taking on more than they can handle, increasing the number and speed of activities, spiking performance goals, slashing innovation cycles and continuously introducing new technologies and systems. In short, taking a fast and furious approach to multiple issues on multiple fronts.
What’s the impact on individuals? Employees don’t have enough resources to meet expectations. They work under endlessly elevated time pressures, in situations where priorities are constantly changing. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel and little or no investment in rejuvenation.
Organizationally, relentless acceleration breeds a lack of focus, misalignment of activities, conflicting messaging, confused customers, and exhausted employees.
B&M have identified three core destructive patterns of behavior. Overloading the organization with too many projects and activities. Multi-loading employees by asking them to do too many different kinds of activities. Perpetual loading in which there is no opportunity to regroup or catch your breath before the next burst of frenzy.
ACTION: So, how might companies sustain high performance over time without overtaxing their employees, confusing their customers, and losing their edge?
B&M offer several suggestions.
1. Halt less important work. Solicit ideas for what could be terminated.
2. Get clear about strategy. It’s tougher to prioritize or jettison projects, if you don’t know what matters most and how activities connect to those end goals.
3. Adopt a systematic approach to sifting and sorting projects. Place a cap on the number of annual goals. Filter ideas for new projects through a reality check.
4. Build corporate time-outs into the cycle of performance. Declare an endpoint to focused initiatives – rather than having them drag on forever. Mandate periods of regrouping after major projects.
What do all these suggestions have in common? A degree of thoughtfulness that somehow seems absent in a climate of fast furious infinite frenzy.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “If the leader gets greedy, demanding the same level of urgency every day, the energy will fizzle and performance will sink, despite employees’ heroics.” – Bruch & Menges
RESOURCE OF THE WEEK: Read the complete article, The Acceleration Trap, by Bruch & Menges, in the April, 2010 edition of Harvard Business Review. You will find the opening paragraphs of the article on-line at HBR. Full article can be purchased on-line from HBR or check for a copy of HBR in the business section of your library.
READERS WRITE: In response to last week’s message, Calm & Curious, Pause reader CD writes: Loved this message! I find that writing is a great way to make myself slow down as it automatically makes me do steps #1, 4 and 5 (pause and shift gears before reacting). Going back and editing my words results in a much more measured, and usually appropriate, response. Thanks for this!