Sustainable OD

A blog dedicated to the wonderfull field of Organisation Development

Short termism: the disease that plagues organisations

One of my biggest concerns since I started my career was the lack of capability or awareness that organisations have in focusing on the long term. Perhaps, because I come from a developing country, but I have seen how organisations behave in crisis time after time and it never stops to amaze me. As I am passionate about the subject and I know how hard it is in practice, the next two if not three entries will be related.

Many people talk about our current economic crisis and how organisations are looking at surviving these periods. I am not saying that looking at how to survive is not important… but it isn’t the whole picture. Organisations can develop “short termism” during these challenging periods, their tunnel vision focus becomes on results and “results now!”.

This can be very damaging in many ways… Of course, if the organisation is in danger of bankruptcy it will be vital to find quick ways to cut costs, improve efficiency and financially sustain oneself. However, if the organisation is merely finding itself in a small dip, focusing on the short term can lead to unforeseen negative consequences.

I remember back in university our OD teacher thought us a very valuable lesson which I will now pass on to you.

Let’s say you have an organisation, you find yourself in an unexpected crisis. Not sure what to do you do what everyone else seems to be doing… you cut costs and you downsize. You stop investing in things that seem “unnecessary”: you cut down on training costs, meeting and travel costs get cut, you outsource your IT, you outsource your recruitment, and you decide that your staff bill is too high creating restructures and voluntary severance packages to get rid of the “excess”. In the short term you see your financial statement the following months and you are impressed, the numbers says what you want it to, you have had a positive result (I’ll call this the result blindfold).

You fail to view the whole picture, until one day you find the numbers start plummeting again. You start asking yourself, why? You have two choices here: 1) do the whole cycle all over again or 2) take off the blindfold.

Let’s say you do number one… you will soon come back to the same place. If you do number two you may find that the numbers were lying to you, you weren’t improving, you just had less expenses. You look around and find the following:

–          Staff who have burnt out because once the “recession” period had passed they had no way of coping with the work

–          Staff who are incapable because they were thrown in the deep end with no development on doing more with less

–          Disengaged staff who do not feel recognised or valued

–          High turnover of talented staff who found a new job (let’s face it, the good ones always have a choice!)

–          Dissatisfied customers who now may be looking at a competitor to fulfil their needs

–          Lack of innovation as there hasn’t been money to invest in being creative, coming up with new products, services or even time to think on how things can be done better

–          And maybe even you will realise that all that expertise you outsourced is costing you more than you initially plannedMy teacher’s point was that when you find yourself in a dip, before you make any decision ask yourself “what will I need once we get going again?”. I truly believe that this question will help people look at the different options there are to start climbing back up the curve in a sustainable fashion.

In my opinion there is a reason why OD works with an Action Research approach. There is also a reason why Appreciative Inquiry professionals use the word “Dream” to describe an organisation’s vision. When thinking about change, it is important to have your ultimate goal and the steps to get there (these are your shorter term goals). Each time you make a change, go back and check, observe the results, give them the appropriate time and think about your next step for that ultimate goal. So for example if the change is a process it may only need a month to show results, however, if it is a cultural change, no magic wands have yet been invented so give it time to show results (6+ months is recommendable).

In conclusion: Research your organisation, Plan change, Action change, and Research again. It is a cycle, a continuous one, and that Dream or long term goal can always change and evolve, just make sure to keep it in mind.


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