Vivek Tiwari’s experience is in the area of sales, operations, management consulting, and a large part of his career has been in the field of Leadership Capability Development. He has worked with Global and Indian MNCs, including a Big 4, as well as been a founding team member of a technology-based talent startup. He has worked with organizations like PwC, American Express and HCL. His last corporate assignment was Regional Head (APJC) for Amazon in their Global Talent Management function where one of his responsibilities was to set up a regional coaching practice. His academic background is in business administration and applied psychology. He has done consulting for different industries like BFSI, Automobile, Pharma, IT/ITES etc. for more than a decade.
Clarity for employees about their role, responsibility and differentiated contributions are obvious for an organisation that has well aligned and clearly defined strategies, roles and goals. And hence there is a rhythm that permeates within the organisation.
However, it is very common to find employees working on various projects beyond their defined responsibilities. These projects have their own set of champions, work teams, project managers, governance, etc. Majority of the times these projects take the priority over the defined goals.
Why is that so?
In a hyper-competitive and growth-oriented market most of the employees with an aspiration of successive growth/promotion, are trying to prove that they are contributing much more than what can be termed as ‘Meets Expectations’. Only these extra projects create an opportunity to contribute in a differentiated manner, show one’s presence to a larger set of leaders and thus inch a little bit forward to the zone that gets tagged as high potential employees.
While employees often get rewarded for these projects, the bigger question is what kind of real value gets created for the organization?
In several cases, they die an early death after a lot of initial hullabaloos and occupying the mind space and eyeballs. While the aim is to focus and prioritize, sometimes it creates the opposite. A large organizational mass seems to be devoted to different kinds of projects along with their core job and suddenly the leadership realizes that the number of projects has gone beyond the level where the term ‘priority/critical’ can actually be applied. “Anything and everything cannot be a priority”. At this stage, the pruning, pausing, or dropping of the priority projects kicks in. Whether anything has really been achieved or not is a debatable issue, however some employees definitely get the benefit of participating in this project wave. Unfortunately, nothing substantial gets delivered over the long run for the organisation and the board / executive leadership starts questioning the busyness overdrive in the organization.
Not to get ensnared by the lure of priority/critical projects, leaders need to:
- Define and cascade the strategy, goals and deliverables
If the functional strategy is clearly defined and employees are clear about their goals, the need for starting anything extra will significantly reduce. The organizations that are doing this systematically are consistently able to achieve a lot more.
- Define the need, duration and assess the rationale for priority projects
Priority projects can do wonders if the need and duration are defined, with unambiguous rationale. e.g., priority projects as part of a development program for leaders with a duration of 8-12 months to identify and work on a few bold bets.
- Define the stage/ criteria when the project should be abandoned
Defining criteria to call off such projects can limit the loss e.g. No significant movement in the projects for the last 3 months, then it isn’t relevant for current realities.
- Candid discussions with project champions
What is the real value-add of the project, is it being done with passion and rigor or with a feeling of burden and burn-out? Questions like these should be regularly discussed with project champions to assess the validity of such projects.
- Convert the investment into a tangible cost to determine real value add
Consider all the costs, tangible and intangible, that are linked to the project e.g., cost of project meetings, employee burn out impacting well-being (or upliftment in morale), to arrive at an idea of the real worth of the project.
- Document and refer to organizational history linked to priority projects
It is helpful to maintain and update a log that records the history of critical projects, their success or failure as well as reasons for the same. Such information helps in deciding the rationale for rolling out the next set of projects as well as what is it that increases the likelihood of projects successfully delivering results, most importantly it also gives us a sneak peek into an organization’s culture.
While there are many instances where priority/critical projects have delivered tremendous value to certain organizations and there are situations where such projects turn out to be real game changers – a strategic initiative that cuts across different units and levels e.g., enhancing customer experience leveraging technology as well as human touch, idea here is to highlight the situations when projects become proxy for results and as a consequence, managers are submerged in reviews and meetings while the real success parameters of the organization show little or no change.