Turning good ideas into effective action

Background

I’ve worked in capital projects for over 30 years. In that time, I’ve seen many examples of great ideas which ought to have been put in to action and lots of really bad ideas which have had money thrown at them. A few years ago, I co-authored a paper for the Irish Academy of Management which looked at how internal systems, policies and procedures had limited the ability of a couple of companies who were trying to enter a growing market sector and enabled another [with arguably fewer resources] to do so effectively.

I was also mindful of an interview I’d heard Michael Porter give around the time that he produced a report for the Government on UK Competitiveness. He suggested that the strategies developed by UK companies were at least as good as those dreamed up by our competitors but that our top management teams were much less able to communicate the intentions, rationale and requirements of those strategies to their middle managers.

Approach

This got me thinking and I produced a Mind Map based on the McKinsey 7S model to structure all of the issues which I thought might have a bearing on the issue.

Mind Map

Strategy Implementation Mind Map

It’s clearly a complex issue which would need a lot of research to sort out but I thought it would be worth my while doing a little digging around and I wanted to test out the LinkedIn Polls feature which someone had recommended.  So I started a poll.

In retrospect, I ought to have thought about it a bit more before diving in but…

I learned quite quickly that the structure of the poll places some significant limitations on what you can ask and how participants can respond but here is what I asked:

What is the main reason stopping businesses from implementing the good ideas they come up with?

The five options I listed were:

  1. Finance
  2. Company systems, policies and processes
  3. Organisational Culture
  4. Skills
  5. Risk Aversion / Self-Confidence

I realised that I had failed to make it clear that I was talking about ideas which were generally held to be beneficial for the business and that the final option was intended to refer to the individuals concerned rather than the businesses. You live and learn!

The poll was open to three distinct groups of people on the LinkedIn Network:

  1. My personal contacts ~ 500 at the time
  2. The Alumni of the Open University MBA programme
  3. Members of the Institute of Directors

Results

The graphic below summarises the results of the poll which drew about 350 votes and around 100 comments across the three groups.

LinkedIn Poll results

LinkedIn Poll results

Observations

I had expected that in the in current economic climate, most of the votes would be for Finance – what was surprising was that most respondents felt that cultural and organisational issues were the most predominant cause of good ideas falling by the wayside. Many commentators suggested that Company policies, systems and procedures and to some extent Risk Aversion / Self-Confidence were attributes of Culture too. Several also thoguth that Structure was a relevant issue [harking back to the 7S model].

This seems reasonable  and is worthy of investigation in a more structured research programme.

It was notable that there were comparatively few votes for Skills – what was interesting was that quite a few commentators mentioned that Communication ought to have been added to the list of options. I had in my mind at the outset that communication skills were likely to be a significant contributor [and this had been alluded to by Michael Porter]. So perhaps it was my communication skills which led to the low vote!

The comments on the poll provided some very useful insights into the issue and if you would like to see all of the comments, please drop me a request by email to jim@fulcrum-management.co.uk.

What it means for you!

It seems likely that in most businesses, there are cultural and systems barriers which get in the way of good ideas being raised by the workforce and finding their way to the top of the organisation. Similarly, there are barriers which stop the good ideas and strategies of the top team from permeating down to the workforce / implementors in a way which motivates them to take effective action. If you want to move your business forward, you will need to address both sets of barriers.

It also seems that when Finance is put forward as a reason for not taking action, it may well be just an excuse! The real issue may well be that it is just too difficult to get things done round here!

On a brighter note, it seems that where there’s a will, there’s a way – where there is a consensus for action a budget will be found!

Please let me know what you think.

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Comments

  • Mike  On June 23, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Thanks for the link. I have just read your article on ‘Turning good ideas into effective action’. Whilst I would of also put Organisational Culture as the main cause from the list provided, it is interesting that you have assumed that at the strategic/feasibility stage organisations have the insight and perception to look critically at their operations and recognise/understand the problems. For me there are two fundamental reasons why organisations do not implement, which are the same two reasons why external consltants sell projects. Firstly, organisations never have the time to manage change even when the knowledge exists and secondly, their perception is fixed, inflexible and bound by red tape, poor working methods and restrictive practices. It’s not the organisational culture, but the inability to be self-critical and think outside the box, which I believe is the main cause of problems at a strategic level and if you can’t reflect the right ideas in your strategic plans, balance scorecards and KPI’s you can never achieve effective action.

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