Monday, 27 April 2015

You Don't Know What You've Got 'Till It's Gone

"Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone " 

are lines from the 1970 Joni Mitchell song "Big Yellow Taxi" which was an early reflection of environmental blots on the landscape.

Those lines work on so many levels from reminiscing about personal relationships, missed opportunities and regrets about leaving situations or places. But it struck me that they can apply equally well in a business context, particularly during organisational changes.

I can think of numerous situations where I've felt this way, and where I've thought (futilely) about the reasoning behind the decisions which caused these feelings. The helplessness when groups or teams (or even whole departments) are broken up or disbanded and their members reposted to different parts of the organisation. The despair when talented professionals with unique subject matter expertise are made redundant, whilst drifters and far less talented individuals keep their jobs. And the sadness when great managers and leaders choose to leave because they no longer feel they can live with the direction the business is heading.

What I find most disheartening is that these events rarely provide any genuine benefit and, at least in my experience, have generally had the opposite effect of what was intended. Why? Because the people responsible for making the decisions didn't think carefully enough about the consequences of their actions, or if they did, they didn't ask the right questions of the right people who could help them see the potential error of their ways.

One of the problems of organisational reshuffles (which I'd argue are often changes for changes sake) is that incoming managers are often more keen on imposing their vision of how things should be than taking a few weeks or months to understand what they are inheriting. As a result of this zealotry to change (which is often driven by arrogance), the proverbial babies get thrown out with the bathwater.

I remember in one organisation where I was contracting, a new manager, with no operational experience in the area he was taking over, explained to his inherited team that he needed an additional manager to run the team because he personally had too many other direct reports - but none of the permanent employees in the team were experienced enough to take on the role - despite each of them having twenty years subject matter expertise and most of them having managed similar teams in other organisations. All but one person either left the company or sought alternative positions. The knowledge base, value of the group (and moral) in that group plummeted over the course of three months.

In far too many situations the people that make the decisions ultimately end up reversing them and attempt to rebuild the teams or groups they previously broke up (although they might make some name changes to try and save face). The problem is the damage has generally already been done. Once you lose the trust of those key people and the bonds and networks they have built up, nothing you can do will rectify what has taken place. (And rest assured, bringing people back to their old roles as contractors won't help, and will prove just how wrong you were in the first place!)

When it's gone it's gone, and you can only rue the fact and hopefully learn enough that next time you find yourself in the same situation, you don't make the same mistakes.

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