There’s a quote from Sir Francis Drake that rings very true for organisational life today “There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.”
Stand still for a moment and think about the words “thoroughly finished”. How many projects are you involved in? How many things are there on your to do list? How many meetings on “innovation”, on “future strategy” on “employee satisfaction” on an endless list of “stuff”. Is any of it ever “thoroughly finished” before you have to move on to the next thing?
One of my ways of looking at the maturity of a management team is its ability to finish projects and also to give things up. Mature organisations do not keep starting projects they can never finish. They are also good at stopping things.
Now, the problem with stopping things is that it goes against what we see as successful behaviour. Starting new projects is exciting: whenever new CEOs are asked what they are going to achieve in their first 100 days they feel pressured to reel off a list of projects – after all, that is what heroic CEOs do. The Board feel comforted, the workforce is generally either horrified or just passively accept yet another list of what one company I worked in cynically called SOGIs (Senior Officers Good Ideas).
Any list of new projects has one of 4 underlying assumptions:
- There are a lot of people in the organisation that don’t have enough to do, and they can do your projects.
- People will be able to “work faster and smarter” – Really – why weren’t they doing that already?
- People will be willing to “go the extra mile” (this means give up their family and leisure time for your projects – they will do this for a little while then they will either get sick or quietly go and find another job). If you want to validate fact this look at your staff turnover.
- There are things that we can stop doing to create time for these projects.
If you are lucky enough to work for a mature organisation then the answer will be 4.
If you are trying to work your way towards maturity here’s what you have to do:
- Understand what resources you have (really) -count holidays, sickness, what do you need to keep the basic organisation running – if there is no spare capacity then hire more people.
- Do not be heroic – success demands sacrifice.
- Listen to people and then listen again. I cannot count the times that I have heard leaders and Boards tell their organisation that a well-researched cost and end date for a project is “unacceptable”.
- Time is a finite resource – people have lives – they will go the extra mile for a while – eventually they will leave
- Loading on things to peoples’ day jobs is a form of abuse – look at your turnover.
- Wait until projects are “thoroughly finished” before you move on to the next one.
The only way you find more time is to STOP doing other things.
Do any of these things ring true for you? I’d love to hear from you if they do.