Monday, October 28, 2013

Overcoming OADD: Organizational Attention Deficit Disorder

We see it more and more and more in our corporations every working day.  We see the symptoms of OADD: Inability to concentrate, loss of focus, distraction, and decreased employee morale.  As the pace of change and new global challenges rise, this issue will become the primary management challenge in organizations. Uncoordinated activities from multiple directions causes confusion about how to make decisions. Uncertainty is a nemesis in a corporation.  People are no longer agile – they are paralyzed, especially when everything is priority #1.

Sources of OADD
Uncertainty about organizational direction, along with disconnected organizational initiatives and simply too much change happening at one time contribute to this disorder. Organizations create their own chaos through ineffective management of competing programs and initiatives.  Organizations create their own overload.     
The Outcomes of Organizational OADD
An organization struggling with OADD will display incomplete projects, halted growth, inefficiencies, employee frustrations, and, ultimately, loss of market share.
 So what is a leader to do to overcome OADD? 
The best leaders truly understand critical organizational priorities.   They spend time with their managers to gain insight into the key long term goals of the corporation – not just the strategic plan, but the real projects and initiatives that will yield the greatest financial and organizational results.Leaders need to clearly understand what their organizations want to achieve, irrespective of today’s hot projects.  There will always be hot projects.  Things go wrong, but if we simply focus on the things that are in our way we lose focus and never reject something else coming our direction. 
The best leaders understand the true workload of their team.  Understanding workload is sometimes a daily activity requiring a document that simply outlines the major projects and activities of the team.  It is a hard discipline but a necessary discipline.  Team members can tell whether you truly understand what they’re trying to accomplish or if you’re just waiting around for your next assignment.  The best leaders understand the capacity of their people.  People cannot work interminably without burning out, the upshot of which is loss of great employees. 
The best leaders manage upwardly to prevent overload and maintain focus.  It takes a great deal of managerial courage to say no.  Clearly there are many ways to say no without insulting a leader, but any manager or leader who continues to take on more and more activities without considering the effectiveness of their team is chipping away at their own foundation. 
Here are the specific actions I have taken to manage past the clutter to achieve the heart of organizational aspirations.  Ultimately, it’s about the following managerial/leadership disciplines:
Provide maximum goal clarity.  In some ways, a lack of leadership discipline causes OADD. 
Maintain focus on your team – What is their role in the corporation?  Why do they exist?  What does the organization expect them to produce?  As a leader, you know the answers to those questions, and you know the powerful value of maintaining focus in the midst of chaos.
Manage priorities – Your team looks to you to manage the priorities and take the heat.   
Stay the course to get the job done – Sometimes you need to repeat the goals of the team until people no longer want to hear them.  I’ve done it and people got frustrated … BUT! … They got the job done, and they got rewarded for top performance. 
On a side note, watch for the social loafers in your organization who send work your way.  There is always room to be a team player on a common goal that exceeds departmental boundaries, but … when one of your team members is asked to spend time on another team, ensure that their time is spent on the priorities you’ve set by assessing what the corporation really wants to achieve.  

Your success as a leader will be dramatically affected by your own disciplined management of Organizational Attention Deficit Disorder.  The distractions you remove make all the difference. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Leadership balance: Not ignoring people while ignoring the noise.

In any leadership challenge, we are faced with myriad inputs, ideas, thoughts, recommendations, prophets of doom, new concepts, sarcastic looks and cynical emails, executive pressure to conform, and endless advice.

The value of organizational input is obvious: by listening, we gain crucial insight, but that doesn't mean we need to listen to all the noise.

We can learn from those on the ground, the very people who are facing the battle every day.   Yet although they may have insight, they may also be wrong. They have a very slanted view of day-to-day activities, based on their current emotional pain.  Leaders listen, but do not base their long-term plans on short term emotional pain. 

We can learn from those who had different experiences in the past.  Let's face it; experience matters!  The things people have done in the past are legitimate, concrete situations they can point to and say "See, this is what happens when you ..." And yet, if we simply rely on those with a bad experience, we are likely to be pulled by the emotional tug of a wounded victim.

We can learn from the guru with the latest technology!  In other words, input from the future.  Technology reigns supreme these days in most circles.   Ignoring the techies of the world is simply stupid.  People with good technical sense can make the world (our world - your world) a better place.  But technology for the sake of technology is never a good idea ... yet there are those who want to try every new thing that hits the cloud!

We can learn from our peers who have done similar projects.  I find this group to be the most effective of the bunch, simply because they're had to navigate tough waters in the same organization.  Yet even they may have a somewhat jaded view of the situation, simply because they lead a different team or their own leadership methods were ineffective.  (Not all leaders are equal). 

SO - what's a leader to do!?  Listen but ignore the noise.

  1. A great starting point is admitting that no one, and I mean no one has the solution.  As a leader, it's your job to weigh all the ingredients and build a solution.
  2. Listen most carefully to those who are truly interested in your success - people who have a track record of investing in your career, those who want you to succeed. 
  3. Listen for the real kernel of truth from those who are most frustrated.  Somewhere in their rant is a gemstone of help.
  4. Acknowledging to yourself that your decisions and approach will not make everyone happy.  It just ain't gonna happen.
Early in my first supervisory role I had a conversation with my boss. I told him I was going to go and talk to everyone about a decision I made to make sure everyone would like it.  He asked me "Have you thought this through?"  I answered "Yes." "Have you considered the different angles of your decision?"  Again, I answered "Yes."  "Have you done your best?"  "Yes," I replied.  "Then you need to move forward with your decision."

At the end of the day, no leader will be right all the time.  And while we need not ignore people, we must ignore the noise.