In today’s world, where employee engagement is arguably at an all-time low, and complaints of stress and overwork prevail, leaders may be unconsciously contributing to the problem by not being intentional about initiatives underway in their organization.
When a holistic view of the range of initiatives across an organization is missing, and when communication around those initiatives is lacking, leaders risk leading their organizations right into Initiative Overload.
Understanding which of these factors is at play will help you know where to turn your attention to solve the problem.
It is easy to slip into Initiative Overload
“I would have killed more initiatives, but I didn’t have the time.”
You have probably heard the Blaise Pascal quote, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.” This quote says so much about the challenge of writing for efficiency and precision. And it also occurs to me that it might also apply to Initiative Overload.
Paring down initiatives to focus on the most important ones takes work. Arguably, even more work than it takes to write a shorter letter.
There are many reasons we avoid killing initiatives.
It’s political. Which initiatives stay and go send signals within the organization about what matters most. There are perceived winners and losers.
It’s emotional. When someone’s brilliant idea gets killed, feelings can be hurt.
It’s strategic. (Or it should be.) Time is limited. Saying “yes” over here inherently means saying “no” to something over there. Making decisions about what to say “no” to means staying true to your strategy and vision. And if you don’t quite have a handle on those, you are creating them as you make these decisions, consciously or unconsciously.
It sends mixed signals. Do you want employees to take initiative and have opportunities to lead, or not? Initiatives are a great opportunity to let employees shine and develop critical skills. So it is especially painful, then, to tell one of your stars that their efforts are no longer needed.
Killing initiatives is hard.
But consider this:
In a world where employee engagement is at an all-time low and resourcing is a perpetual concern, leaders owe it to the employees in their organization to carefully curate initiatives that eat up their precious time and energy.
I recommend both Radical Candor, by Kim Scott, and The Fearless Organization, by Amy Edmondson regularly for so many reasons. And I am recommending them both here as books that give practical examples and tips for being intentional about initiatives and kind in their euthanization.
But do you really have too many initiatives, or is it something else?
Of course, it may not be that you have too many initiatives, but rather that it is not abundantly clear how those initiatives are taking your organization in the direction it needs to go. And every initiative should fit into that picture.
Every initiative approved within your organization should have a compelling answer to the question “how does this help us get where we want to go?”. And if you haven’t sorted out the “where we want to go” bit, take heart. Vision is an evolution. Start where you are and ask yourself versions of this question regularly until it starts to become clearer. (For more on this topic, check out another recent newsletter of mine on culture change.)
Wendy Hultmark, CPC, ACC, is a coach who helps women in leadership own their stories and write the next chapter. Visit wendyhultmark.com for more information.