I felt compelled to write about this following a raft of conversations with various people over the past few weeks where they were venting about this issue. One senior manager, lets call him Jarrod was really disheartened as he was describing how this had played out in his organisation. Jarrod’s role had innovation attached to the title and he was an enthusiastic, intelligent forward thinker and struck me as an extremely resourceful person capable of seeing the bigger picture along with the parts – just the person you would want as an innovator for your business.
Jarrod had been working on developing an innovative process in the professional services organisation he worked for as Business Improvement and Innovation Manager, which would free up the double handling of components of the business process causing considerable problems. He had done his research, established a watertight business case as to the cost of this double handling, along with an anticipated ROI if resolved. He floated the idea and business case with the CEO and CFO and they agreed in principle, however said ‘you will need to get the managers of operations, quality, safety, HR, sales and marketing on board’.
Eight months and interminable meetings, re-drafts, expert discussions and negotiations later – his proposal was canned. He was so devastated that he was looking for another job. I was curious as to what in his view had been the primary factor that lead to this ‘good idea’ not being taken up. Jarrod’s response was ‘committee’. In elaborating he explained how each of the managers (who really didn’t have expertise in innovation) wanted to put their stamp on the process. He explained that early in the process he thought this was coming from a genuine commitment to efficiency and improvement for people and the business overall.
He explained that about 2 months in, he began to see that the focus of the ‘meetings’ became more about the ‘ego’ of the person making suggestions and their desire to be seen as important and making a ‘valuable’ contribution rather than the intent of the project and the overall benefit to everyone in the business. This, he explained ended up being ridiculous and likened it to one of those team games where people end up failing to solve problems because they didn’t listen to each other and failed to stick with the purpose of the exercise. He said there were one or two ‘powerful’ people in the group who succeeded in ‘altering’ the project to such a point where it had no semblance of its original intent or capacity to achieve the outcome required.
I asked Jarrod why he didn’t take more of a leadership role in keeping the approval process on track and rein in ‘wayward personalities’ with alternate agenda’s? He said he tried, but consistently found that he was out argued. He described the process as doing his head in (he used other words) and that he felt that what he should have done was sought input from the other managers in writing at the start of the process – how can you contribute to this solution? – rather than starting the meeting process.
What was most incredible about this experience was that Jarrod being the savvy business person he was had kept a running log of the costs/waste, from hours spent in meetings, his salary for 25% of the eight month period, the loss due to the doubling handling which had worsened and the fact that he was leaving the organisation as a result – the number was staggering.
Sadly this is a common story within businesses – it is almost like the ‘do nothing’ approach has taken hold by default. Whist the decision by committee is occurring more and more often with good initial intentions, the real issue is lack of leadership, largely driven by ‘fear’ in terms of ‘consequences’ real or imagined, of getting the decision wrong. Jarrod said that he was out argued by the dissenters within the committee. Had he perhaps been a stronger leader, prepared to back himself more and ask for his CEO to support him, things may have been different. However the real concern lies with the CEO – where was his support for Jarrod and the business he was responsible for?