Back in the mid-1990s, when I was a teenager, a group of friends and I made the trek from Portsmouth to London to attend a one-day open-air music festival. We had been looking forward to the event for months and we’d spent a fair amount of time planning our journeys to ensure we could get there on time and (crucially) also get home. I remember one of my friend’s parents was a classic car fan and had offered to drive us in his restored Lincoln Continental (a car you virtually never see in the UK), but we decided to get the train instead. As an adult looking back this seems like a crazy decision (seriously, who wants to be on a train when you can be practically chauffeur driven?!). However, part of the fun was being independent and travelling “sans-parents” for a day—it was an absolutely logical decision given what we valued at the time. A reminder that what is the “right” decision really does depend on what those affected by the decision find valuable….
Organisations seem to regularly pursue the panacea of increased efficiency, and this is a regular aim of change initiatives. There is nothing new about this and it is completely understandable, particularly in industries where competition is rife and where environmental changes are regular. Pursuit of genuine efficiency, when coupled with an understanding of what the organisation’s customers, staff and other stakeholders value can be extremely beneficial. Yet sadly it seems that some efficiency drives turn into little more than relentless short-term cost cutting. The focus becomes predominantly internal, and crucial stakeholder voices aren’t heard. Like a motorist who skips two annual services to a company vehicle to “save money”, the middle managers claim success and get promoted. The new managers that take over then bear the consequences when the inevitable problems emerge. An un-serviced and un-cared for car will eventually break down, an un-cared for team, process or service will too.