The Internet has made business feel more like sailing – operating in real-time and often unpredictable, requiring the ability to continually adapt. Organisations who live by annual plans and budgets are already becoming too slow to respond to change. 


One of the books I read recently was ‘Synchronicity – The Inner Path To Leadership‘ by Joseph Jaworski. It is based around the theme that everything is connected to everything else in the world, a topic I am particularly interested in (it’s where the whole idea of Joining Dots came from).

One snippet in particular caught my attention and has all sorts of useful applications.

Joseph uses a simple sailing analogy to explain why so many projects fail. In sailing, you always focus on the destination. If weather conditions or unforeseen circumstances take you off course, you adjust your travel route as required to ensure you are still able to reach your destination. Yet in business, we tend to become distracted by the course – the plan. We become hooked up on our processes and all the things we think need to be done, to the point that sometimes we completely lose sight of the most important thing of all – are we going to reach the destination. The problem can be worse when timelines are involved (“This is the plan for the coming year…”) Ditto when decisions are involved, because the owners of the decisions can become the most reluctant participants to change and it isn’t unusual to see a plan adjusted to support the decision.

At this point, I was going to use some SharePoint projects to demonstrate. But there is a bigger, more common, example that I think many people can relate to – performance objectives (or their evil sibling – commitments).

Picture this. You receive/agree (delete as appropriate) your set of objectives at the start of a new financial year. You’ll participate in a performance review at mid-year and end-of-year. Your review score will determine your bonus, salary increase and possible promotion. This is fairly typical of most large organisations. Hands-up those people who have been able to go to their boss after 2 months and say “I need to change my objectives”. Or better yet, at 10 months into the year. Why would this be a problem?

Take a simple example – 2 people employed to write documents that explain how to use product X. The objective for the year – ‘publish 10 articles and 3 case studies on the company web site to help improve customer satisfaction’. Employee number 1 dutifully achieves the objective and publishes an extra couple of articles to boot. Employee number 2 publishes three articles and one case study, and then decides a blog would be a better channel for sharing information with customers. The destination hasn’t changed, just the route to get there… but how would the performance review go?

The Internet has made business feel more like sailing – operating in real-time and often unpredictable, requiring the ability to continually adapt. Organisations who live by annual plans and budgets are already becoming too slow to respond to change.

Sooo, next time you are looking at a plan or about to embark on a process, stop yourself and ask “does this help or hinder reaching our destination?” …and if you can’t remember what the destination is, torch the plan! 🙂

Back on the subject of IT projects, collaboration and KM-style projects are particularly prone to this issue, because the destination is rarely well defined. “We want to improve collaboration” is the same as saying “We want to go sailing”. It’s back to the 5th reason why KM is so difficult for many organisations – First understand what you want to achieve.

References:


Flickr-SailingFeatured image: ‘Sailing‘ kindly shared on Flickr by Rob Purdie

 

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