A famous boat race

The Boat Race CartoonIt’s time for that famous annual contest - a boat race...

The river is clear of extraneous craft. Two sleek boats are lying in the water waiting for the equally sleek nine men crews. The tension is building. The Blues are poised to spring into action. The gun sounds and one boat races away. There is so much excitement watching it as it pulls away. Everyone in the team is in tune with the others. Their oars dip gracefully into the water like synchronised swimmers.

Is it Cambridge, or Oxford?

Suddenly, the sports commentator realises that the camera is pointed at the starting line. One boat that is still more or less where it was when the race began. There’s a lot of shouting and waving of arms. The cox is on his feet. The others are shaking their fists. Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent what the problem is. One crew member has a different agenda. He, unbelievably, is sitting, facing the wrong way pulling in the wrong direction!

Does this remind you of your organisation?

Does it seem that no matter how much you plan, there is always one person or one thing that militates against your efforts? And does it feel as though there’s nothing that you can do about it? If so, then you’re in good company. That may be a small consolation, but it may reassure to know that you’re not alone. Your competitors are in exactly the same boat. All companies have ‘passengers’ people who are present and adding no value at all, most companies also have a few people pulling in the wrong direction. Both are very costly in terms of business results. It has long been assumed that the implementation of strategy has failed largely because employees didn’t understand it. And while that may still be true to a certain extent, it is by no means the full story.

There are likely to be many other reasons as well.

It could be that:

  • Your strategy is flawed. In the 1960s, a landmark article was published which made the point that most companies were incapable of creating plans that would work and didn’t know how to implement them regardless. That article is still referenced today.
  • Employees cannot see how your strategy will help them.  The question, “What’s in it for me?” couldn’t be more relevant.
  • The company’s internal structures are out of sync with the changes that are needed to make your strategy work. Your company is like a bungee-cord. No matter how much you stretch it, it will always go back to its original shape. If you want your company to change in a way that supports your new strategies, then you may need a new cord.
  • It could be that you have a chronic malcontent – someone who is determined to sabotage your plans, even if it means that he or she is made redundant, or fired.
  • It could be you just have too many passengers and their dead-weight is too much for the others to carry.

These are but a few of any number of possibilities; and rather than jumping to conclusions on the cause of the problem you need to give at least equal attention to the very real answer…

You’re all in the same boat, and the sooner everyone realises that the better, followed swiftly by the thought that if everyone faced the same way and pulled together the chance of winning are significantly higher…

If you want to know more about employee engagement, please contact me here

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