Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Start at the Top

As an analyst, I often get asked for my opinion on challenges faced by organizations. Sometimes my own, sometimes those of friends or acquaintances. I'll probably talk about those here, but I will make things anonymous to protect the confidentiality of the organization.

An acquaintance recently presented me with the following situation. A new project in his organization was floundering badly. Productivity and quality were both consistently under target. This had been an ongoing issue since the initiation of the project. He talked about the discussions he'd had with the project managers, and the actions they'd tried. Despite those initiatives, the various teams responsible for the project had failed to improve. His question to me was whether I had any thoughts on what else he could do to get the project turned around.

My response to him was very blunt. Look at the leadership. Any time you have a unit that is consistently under-performing, you need to ask yourself if you have the right people leading that unit. I believe it is entirely appropriate to start by looking at systems and processes, but once you've addressed those, it comes back to people.

People follow their leaders, in more ways that are immediately obvious. If you've got an organization that delivers poor quality work, the leadership doesn't value quality. If you've got a unit who in unproductive, ask how productive the leader is. These are problems that start at the top.

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