A tempting-but-deadly distraction for businesses is the tendency to do things that are “interesting” but not important. I recently wrote about one way this can show up with regard to software tools. Even “free” tools take time to set up and implement. But software tools are just one of many places that this phenomenon can impact a business.
For instance, a new product offering might sound like a great idea, until one considers the cost of developing them, training staff, developing marketing materials to promote them and coordinating the rollout. Then, even if the new product is well-received, it introduces risk to the brand identity by creating the potential for confusion in the marketplace. It is easy to lose the ability to think objectively when assessing how heavily-weighted an initiative should be for any given business.
Here are a few other examples of situations where I have seen this tendency at play in businesses of every size:
- Rolling out new software features (that do not address what end users have asked for)
- Pursuing new markets or verticals (when current markets are nowhere near saturation)
- Increasing headcount (when current staff is adequate, perhaps with tighter discipline)
- Changing the marketing strategy (when the current strategy is not even fully implemented)
- Buying new advertising (without considering if or how it aligns with the marketing strategy)
- Changing sales compensation models (without assessing how it may affect sales staff retention)
- Offering price incentives for new customers (at the cost of driving away existing customers)
- Hiring outside consultants (without taking inventory of untapped in-house expertise)
Personally, I have found that the best way to bring objectivity back into the picture is to identify the bottleneck in the business, or the most in-demand resource in the business. That is not always easy to identify, but I believe it is the most important task. The million-dollar question: if you are considering a new direction and wondering if this is “important” (impacting a bottleneck) or just “interesting” (a distraction), how does one tell the difference?
For some insight into this question, I interviewed Alicia Parr of Performentor. In Alicia’s own words, she uses “empirically proven management science to create humane organizations that maximize growth, trust, and creativity in business.”
Dave Baldwin: Your recent blog post talks about the distinction between something that’s “interesting” and something that’s important. Can you give one example of a situation where this often comes up?
Alicia Parr: I’ve seen product design based on what’s interesting to the people building the product whether hardware or software, instead of starting with solving a pervasive customer problem. I’ve seen a doubling down on a low-to-negative margin target market based on what the senior leadership team is interested in instead of focusing resources on the highest margin sector they’ve got in their customer portfolio. I see myself and other technical experts prioritize problems in our zone of interest and expertise even when attention of the whole business is better off looking elsewhere. I’ve seen innovation investments over-played because the CEO enjoys innovating while starving the cash cow to great detriment of everyone involved. These are a few examples that I’ve seen first hand.
DB: Do you think being too aggressive to implement things that are “interesting but not important” can play a role in creating disillusionment?
AP: Absolutely. In every case, people will feel the disconnect, sense the blind spots, and notice the poor results that are caused by prioritizing interesting-but-not-important without having a good way to give the feedback– and that creates disillusionment. Especially those people responsible for things that are being starved for resources in favor of something “more interesting” but called “more important.” These folks will become disillusioned, spread the frustration, and eventually leave. Or quit and stay. Of course, the disillusioned aren’t exempt from the interesting-vs-important errors themselves, so there is that.
DB: Have you seen any situations where an executive leader gained greater trust and confidence of the team by tightening the reins and pulling resources away from unimportant initiatives, even though they were interesting?
AP: Yes. In the last example of the cash cow starved for innovation resources, the situation was eventually corrected. Once resources were routed back to the cash cow, many people were relieved and happy. Then speedy growth resumed. I’ve also seen benefits to a business when new leadership tightened up, systematized, and linked software development practices to business success and away from prioritizing the chance to use cool new methods that are most fun to the developers. There was some grumbling from some developers, but people in the rest of the business appreciated the greater support to meeting their objectives.
DB: You liken a performance bottleneck to a log jam in a dam. What tactics have you found helpful for identifying the “key log” when no one is clear where to start?
Always start with the Trust Algorithm. Look for places within the business where accountability, authority, and capability are out of sync. When people are pointing fingers at someone else because they have a “bad attitude” or aren’t a “team player”, there’s probably a mis-match between what someone is responsible for, what they have the authority to decide, and what they are capable of in a work skills and talents capacity. Odds are good you’ll find a key log if you look closely. This is the best way to find key logs.
You can learn more about Alicia Parr and her specific areas of expertise at Performentor.biz.