The Silent Company Killer

There is a growing epidemic in the enterprise. It has existed for many years and many companies work hard to cure this sickness. But, in the end, this malignant growth spreads, wins and kills the company. It’s an epidemic that, in my experience, shows no signs of stopping. Companies need to acknowledge the problem and conquer the disease. I call it Signal vs. Noise.

Let’s look at an example I have seen played out, in one guise or another, many times. John was an amazing project manager. Last year, he closed numerous projects and was awarded the CEO medal of honor for a particularly successful project. He was untouchable in the corporate environment, so he was assigned one of the biggest projects in the corporation’s history.

This project will catapult the company ahead of the competition. This project isn’t just big — it is the key to unlock the company’s future.

John was honored , even surprised, to be offered such responsibility.

John started this project as he had done with countless other projects. He sent daily, weekly and monthly status reports to the sponsors of the project on the risks and concerns. He scheduled review meetings with the stakeholders. Everything made sense and was going to plan. And, despite a few bumps along the way, the project was even on schedule to deliver everything the company desired.

Then, out of nowhere, he receives an email from his boss’s, boss’s, boss. This corporate big wig is on the executive team and wants to meet him. John, of course, agrees to the meeting, but he doesn’t really know what it could be about.

Suddenly, the “most important project in company history” is ditched

At the meeting, this executive tells him the plan has changed. Suddenly, the “most important project in company history” is ditched. It doesn’t fit with the new corporate outlook. Wrap it up and the budget will be removed. John points out the revenue impact and the amount of customers affected, but it’s pointless. The decision is final.

The question is: “how was this decision made?”

It is amazing how some large corporations make big decisions on their strategies and products in this way. I have had first hand experience in this across many companies. Such decisions are rarely made with the customer in mind and the facts on the table. They are made with executive polish and opinions and without any real data to back up these rulings. If any numbers are thrown around, they are used in the wrong context, making them useless stats.

Why does this happen? Well, it is human nature to use the facts to your advantage and get buy-in based on such storytelling. This is, what I call, the Noise in the enterprise. It is always there and it is deafening.

This Noise is so powerful that it transforms entire legions of employees from externally customer-focused individuals to internally-focused groups, fighting for their budget, resources and reminding the executive overlords why they need to exist.

The first problem is that, as people move higher up in the organization, there becomes a point where they are separated from the inner workings of the product, people and process

There are two clear issues here. The first problem is that, as people move higher up in the organization, there becomes a point where they are separated from the inner workings of the product, people and process. The second issue is these people are making massive business decisions that affect the product, people and process that they are completely removed from.

These people at the top should not be making such decisions. They should guide the builders to respond and make the decisions themselves.

There are some ways to achieve this:

  • Allow the executive team to be part of the process. This one is hard to do, but realistically many executives are too far removed to make the right call and do not possess a clear understanding of what is going on.
  • Remove the PMO: Project management is a good thing until it just becomes a middle man with little to no data and an absence of correct opinions.
  • Build your corporate culture from the ground up, instead of the top down. Let the people running the service “own” that P&L and make the decisions with advice from executives and other teams.
  • Drive with data directly from the source of truth. Do not rely on slide presentations or an executive to pontificate what they believe is right or wrong. Without data all of you are wrong…
  • Remove the politicians. This is maybe the most difficult point to achieve but it will result in real change for the company. Those without any worthy experience or knowledge of the decision in hand need to be removed from the process. They will only add to the noise.

Companies that cut the noise will go through an iterative lifecycle where the organization is one based around managers, not leaders. The managers may evolve into leaders, but they are leaders that recognise the value of business data and never fudge the facts. They embrace change based on team decisions, not hearsay and melodrama.

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