Losing Weight

Bathroom Scale, Display ErrorHave you ever noticed how procedures or “rules” seem to accumulate in an organization much the way pounds do around one’s middle? You hardly notice the impact when you’re adding them one at the time, but one day you wake up and realize that the organization feels rather sluggish and just isn’t moving as efficiently as it once did. Maybe it’s time for the organization to lose a little weight.

You might wonder how the “weight gain” happened in the first place . . . after all, no one really likes more rules, right? In most cases, it’s not the rules that people like, it is a) consistent, predictable outcomes; b) risk avoidance; c) the need for control; and/or, d) an assumption of incompetence.

I am not suggesting that we get rid of all the rules. Clearly, “a” and “b” rules can serve a very important function. “C” and “d” rules, on the other hand, simply bog your organization down. How can you tell which rules serve an important function and which should be part of your weight loss plan? Here are a few good places to start:

  • “Because we have always done it that way” rules are the low hanging fruit of organizational weight loss. If no one can tell you what purpose a rule serves other than “because we have always done it that way,” stop it. If it serves an important purpose you’ll know soon enough.
  • Rules that don’t make sense should be second on your list. Not sure which rules don’t make sense? Ask your people. I guarantee you they know. Again, it is possible that this rule serves an important purpose, but if it doesn’t make sense there is probably a better way to accomplish it.
  • Rules for “highly unlikely but still in the 1-in-a-million realm of possibility” situations should be on the diet plan too. Lots of things “could” happen. But just because there is a remote possibility of something does not automatically mean that you should add 12 new rules on top of the 14 you already have in place.
  • Rules that assume your people are stupid annoy most of your staff and probably won’t make a difference for those who may truly be incompetent. Address the individual situation rather than penalize everyone else with five extra steps.

I am absolutely not saying that you should never add new rules or procedures to your organization. Weight gain happens not so much because we add rules, but because we never, ever take any away. My challenge for you today is to ask your staff what rules/procedures make their day more sluggish without bringing any value to the organization and start there.

You just might be amazed how much better your people feel if your organization loses a little weight.

Rooted Against the Wind

Old branchy evergreen beech forest.It’s Spring in the Midwest, which means the winds have been howling. As I look at the trees in my back yard, I am glad they have roots that run deep to withstand the gusts, which seem to come from every direction. A lot of organizations could learn a thing or two from those thriving old maples. I see far too many organizations that only root their programs . . . their focus . . . their energy, about an inch deep — planting a little bit here, a little bit there, based on the way the wind is blowing today. The problem with that philosophy? The wind changes direction on a fairly regular basis and so these organizations are always scrambling to adapt.

Perhaps a better plan is to scout out a location . . . a philosophy . . . an approach that you believe in enough to stick with for the long haul, regardless of which way the wind blows, and then take the time to develop a root system that can weather the inevitable storms. Unfortunately many leaders, with the best of intentions, jump on board an “industry trend,” provide introductory level training to a wide cross-section of staff, and then wonder why they are not seeing dramatic change within 60 days. Oh, and they are also “planting” three other best practice approaches, just to hedge their bets.

It may feel like that is the “safer” approach, like you are responding to the changing winds. What you are really doing, however, is confusing and wearing out your people. As a leader, you need to look past next weeks’ weather forecast . . . past the next quarter, the next year . . . and ask yourself, who are you as an organization? What are you really about, specifically? Focus your energy and resources there. How?

When you are building for the long term, start small. Identify a core group of individuals and immerse them in your area of focus. Allow them to explore, to ask questions, adjust and start again. All the while, they will be developing a root system that grows stronger each day because of their targeted focus. Why do this rather than take everyone down the path at the same time? A small group can experiment, adapt and respond with a nimbleness that an entire organization cannot. Also, when everyone has questions and there is no clear answer, people get nervous and start to pull back, reverting to what they know. There’s a reason most trees spend the first year setting out roots before there is visible growth — that’s what allows them to thrive for the long term.

Your organization can thrive, too. Find your spot, support a small group of people as they build a deep network of supportive anchors, and then grow from there . . . with the confidence that your organization will be rooted against the wind.