Initiative Overload: The Hidden Drain on Company Profit and Productivity

Every time I conduct senior executive interviews prior to a major consulting engagement I hear complaints about initiative overload.  More often than not a bleary-eyed executive looks at me, shakes her head, and says something like: “I know you are trying to help, but the last thing I need right now is another initiative.  If you really want to help this company, reduce the number of projects!  There’s no way we can get all our current projects done, even with twice the staff.”

Sound familiar?

Initiative Overload is a common problem in nearly every company.  Somehow initiatives behave like rabbits, they seem to multiply and grow, all with good intentions on the part of their sponsors.  “We need this project to be funded if we are going to remain competitive.  My department can’t deliver on its objectives unless we invest in this new technology.”  The rationale is totally logical and it’s hard to say no; after all, the head of the senior executive is fully supportive.

Yet Initiative Overload is also one of the major causes of cost inflation, reduced profitability, management stress, and poor morale.  In fact, initiative overload is also one of the major reasons most strategies fail.  It’s not that the initiatives are not useful, but in most cases they are not directly linked to the overall strategic intent. As a result time, money and resources are spent on projects that don’t specifically drive forward the company’s strategic agenda.

So how do otherwise rational and logical senior executive teams wind up in a situation of initiative overload?  Where do these added projects, and increased costs come from?  And why do otherwise powerful senior executives feel so frustrated and helpless in solving this problem?

The answer lies in the fact that most companies are silo-based in how they execute their strategy.  While the overall strategy has an enterprise-wide focus, which of course everyone signs up for, implementation plans are usually developed by each department, acting in isolation.  Each department or function develops the plans and initiatives they believe will best deliver the strategy, but from their functional, or silo, point of view.  In addition, a few “pet” projects are also added to the mix, mostly because a senior department head thinks it’s a good idea.  The result, initiative overload and cost inflation.

Whenever we have audited the number of active projects inside a company against the specific strategic objectives of the firm, more often than not we find a large number, close to 30%, which are not directly linked to the overall strategic objectives of the company.  Most CEO’s are shocked when this situation is brought to light.  It also creates an uproar from the sponsors of those projects deemed “not connected”.  Nobody looks forward to sorting out the mess and the CEO often winds up playing Solomon in order to divide the “baby”.

There is an alternative.  For those ambitious CEOs who want to develop a more joined-up approach to strategy deployment, we use a linked-template methodology where the senior team must take off their functional “hats” and adopt a one-company view to build an integrated implementation plan.  This integrated plan, which we call “Plan-on-a-Page” has proven to be a breakthrough approach to not only reducing the number of disconnected initiatives, but also to improving the ability of the organization to deliver its strategic objectives in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Initiative Overload is a problem worth solving.

Tight Lines . . .

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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4 Responses to Initiative Overload: The Hidden Drain on Company Profit and Productivity

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