No Vacation

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Summer is in full swing and many people will go on holiday or vacation during this time of year.  However, for many business owners and executives, there will be no relief of a vacation or any time off.  Any span of time where the executive is even partially detached from work could be very dangerous.  He or she is so involved in the organization that nothing can function without his or her constant physical presence.

The logic of this argument is ridiculous.  I would challenge the leadership of such an organization that would allow one person to hold it hostage, and I would challenge such an executive to reflect on how much value he is truly contributing to the organization by allowing himself to be a bottleneck.  In a more extreme scenario to illustrate the issues, if an executive were to be kidnapped by gypsies and be unable to resume work, would the organization be able to survive?

Well-run, sustainable, organizations should be able to accommodate an executive’s vacation or surprise exit.  If it is too dangerous to allow the executive to go on vacation, it is even more dangerous to NOT allow the executive to go on vacation.  The executive will continue to hold the organization hostage, or the executive burns out and leaves the organization in chaos with no backup plan.  In either case, the organization will sustain significant damage.

One solution to mitigate this risk of complete dependence on an executive is to abstract the organization’s knowledge and capture it into a system that naturally does not need to take vacations.  Such a system could be a checklist of tasks, simple documentation on how to do a certain job, a library of work products, a collaboration wiki site on a company intranet, or a number of other implementations that specifically suit your organization’s needs.  The system will outlive any employee, and, with some care and attention, can be a wealth of information and source of competitive advantage.

With such a system in place, everyone can appreciate vacation time to relax and recharge.

That’s not my job

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Silos, a cultural phenomenon when organizations become burdened by bureaucracy. The phrase “That’s not my job” is a very strong indicator of silo mentality.  Important stuff doesn’t get done because everyone is busy pointing fingers or trying to protect their own necks.  It’s great source material for a popular comic series (dilbert.com), but – joking aside – silos stifle innovation, drive away high-performers, obfuscate decision-making, and contradict operational efficiency.

NASA was awesome in the 1960’s because their only mission for the entire organization was to be the first group to put a man on the moon.  Janitors, engineers, astronauts, and management were all moving in the same direction and making decisions to support that singular outcome.  Realistically, silos are embedded into the culture of an organization and rallying to be the first to put a man on the moon has already been done.  Breaking down silos today is difficult work.

The first step is to recognize and acknowledge silo mentality.

  • How are people being held accountable?
  • Is information being freely shared between groups?
  • Are there disparate systems that are hindering effective communication?
  • How quickly does the organization respond to disaster?

The next step is to understand how much it is costing the organization.

  • Is product/service quality suffering, are deadlines being pushed
  • Are loyal customers leaving?
  • Are new customers being turned away?
  • Are inventories piling up?
  • Are actual numbers falling short of forecasts?

The third step is to re-build trust among opposing groups.

  • Cross functional teams can shed light on the benefits of working together
  • Strong senior leadership that embodies the mission, vision, and values and effects will trickle down
  • Incentives that reward collaborative behavior

A culture that embraces silo thinking will resist change, never be able to achieve optimal operational performance, not be resilient enough to adapt to external forces, and will ultimately fail.  If you’re experiencing evidence of silo mentality in your organization, we would be happy to work with you to evaluate your specific situation.  Contact us at info@firebrickadvisory.com.