It’s My Ass on the Line

When you’re trying to keep up in a fast-changing world, fast is better than slow. Customers expect nothing less than lightning response. Markets demand it. The best people presume it.

Most companies aren’t geared up for this accelerating pace, particularly big ones. The result is lack of innovation and too often, slow death. Sometimes sudden death.

There are loads of reasons for this. Here are a few:

1. ‘It’s my ass on the line’ syndrome.
The biggest symptom of a deep-rooted blame culture, leading to inability to stick your neck out and innovate; time-wasting tip-toeing; and an unhealthy, depressing fear for your livelihood if you try something new.

2. ‘Who owns it?’ syndrome.
If it can’t be slotted into a clean cut category or department, there’s a big freakout about (lack of) governance, despite the fact projects are becoming increasingly holistic rather than departmental.  This is closely related to ‘who’s paying’ syndrome – delay-causing argy-bargy between Teflon-shouldered budget holders, none of whom want to pay. Or at least not until next financial year.

3. ‘Don’t tell Marketing’ syndrome
Anyone who’s an innovator feels they have to fly under the radar and do cool things on the sly, instead of shouting them from the rooftops. Nobody learns anything from successes nor failures; gold-dust mavericks go unsupported; and anyone who needs a transparent, holistic view of what’s going on to do their job can’t see a thing.

Some answers…

1. Take the position that you do not do blame, shame, nor regret. Any time you hear a remark along the lines of ‘it’s my ass on the line’, pull up the perpetrator. Remind them that you trust them to decide what to do; that you’ll help them succeed; and that failure is fine, but fail small and fast. Otherwise ‘I’m really passionate about achieving this goal for my own fulfillment’ is replaced by ‘what will my boss think?’, leading to brain-dead zombie syndrome.

2. Put together a cross-functional team; and hire a ‘floater’ (!) who’s responsible for maintaining the group’s transparency, collaboration and forward motion. Hook them up with internal comms and give them collaboration tools. Encourage copious experiments that don’t need big budget approval; but bring budget holders along the journey from the beginning. Make it a strategic objective to ensure everyone in the organisation can connect with everyone else they need to, regardless of rank and role. Apply the same externally.

3. Publicise failures, focusing on lessons learned and next steps. Publicise successes focusing on the people. Recognise mavericks are the lifeblood of forward motion; that they know it; and that you’ll have to work extra hard to feed them or they’ll search for pastures new. Give them resources. Make them superstars. Interview them and post videos all over the place. Make everyone want to be a featured superstar.

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