At the outset, there are high ambitions, big visions, and strong commitment….Projects or programmes are started with enthusiasm, and lots of exciting promises are made to stakeholders…Significant effort, high energy, and motivation is being put into visioning and analysis phases of the project.
Then the design and implementation phases approach.
All of a sudden steering groups, sponsors, and team pull their necks in so quickly you almost miss it. It is so quick. The project is scaled down to a level where it is almost not worth doing – in the eyes of the project team and the business stakeholders. Now the project scope is at a point where it is clear that it will cost the organisation more in the long term, and yield some but not the true benefits. The project now cannot be even called phase 1 of a long term series of projects.
Sticky plaster solutions are the order of the day. As long as solutions are quick, short-termist, don’t put a line in the sand and don’t ruffle feathers – they are approved. Anything that might require strong leadership and standing for a strategic change is quickly dismissed with a whole host of great (and sometimes ingenious excuses) or ignored.
Sadly, this approach does not work sustainably and long term. And, it does not support innovation, which is so crucial to remaining competitive today.
The turtle approach does nothing for the bottom line. In fact, it hurts the finances more than it saves hard earned cash. The organisation ends up paying more to make the sticky plasters stick, or they have to apply sticky plaster upon sticky plaster until the real problem is no longer visible. This eats up valuable talent with daily fire-fighting. It reduces staff engagement and motivation; previously engaged people give up, become cynical and start looking for new jobs to escape the increasing mess, stress, and frustrations.
As a management consultant, I have come across this type of culture in struggling as well as profitable and successful organisations.
What these organisations had in common was a desire for true innovation and growth. Yet, this never materialised. All of these organisations loved starting large ambitious projects, yet as soon as full commitment to real change was required, they pulled back. They focussed on introducing project management disciplines, benefits cases, governance processes, and many other useful practices, and the resulting change was slow, in small increments and siloed.
Still, the turtle culture prevailed.
What they really would have needed to change was their leaders’ behaviours and attitudes at the same time as introducing good practice disciplines. Examples of leadership behaviours that sabotaged innovation and growth included:
- Lack of open communication, agreement and true commitment within the leadership team,
- Inability to with the often present, hidden fears of many leaders: fear of failure, fear of losing face, or fear of being found out as not good enough.
- Lack of willingness and desire in leaders to engage with staff at all levels rather than hiding behind hierarchy levels and processes,
- Steering groups full of managers rather than true leaders – leaders who are not afraid to lead and take ownership,
- Inability to deal with ambiguity and the unknown – to hold trust in oneself and others,
- Not being able to say no upfront when an initiative was not right at the time, instead of letting it run its course into disappointment.
Changing leadership behaviours and attitudes can be tough and requires a lot of courage. Yet, the rewards are massive.
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