strategy+business Winter 2013 : Page 50

“They keep asking us to do more and more with less and less, to the point that we will be doing everything with nothing.” 50 leaders were providing clarity of purpose and direction. When intent from the top is not clear, middle managers often create their own strategies to help fo-cus resources on specific initiatives and activities. The assumptions embedded within the process of achiev-ing clarity in the middle of the organization can lead to well-coordinated activities that head in the wrong direc-tion. Positive results can pivot to disaster—sometimes without warning. Consider the high-profile Deepwater Horizon inci-dent that nearly sank BP. On April 20, 2010, the oil and gas giant reported a catastrophic failure at its Macon-do well in the Gulf of Mexico. When all was said and done, 11 people had lost their lives and an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil had seeped into the Gulf. Just nine days after the spill, BP shares had dropped US$25 bil-lion in market value. By June 2013, BP had concluded its cleanup operations for Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, but the cleanup of Louisiana continues today with no clear end in sight. Although BP’s top leadership had previously identi-fied safety as a key element of its corporate strategy, cost cutting emerged as the implied core value—and the key driver of people’s behavior. The incongruence first showed up in 2005, when a massive explosion at BP’s Texas City, Texas, refinery killed 15 people and injured 170, following cuts in preventive maintenance enacted in order to achieve aggressive financial goals. After the explosion, BP commissioned an independent panel, chaired by former U.S. secretary of state James Baker. The panel concluded that issues of management qual-ity and lack of clarity in role definitions and responsi-bilities were largely to blame. Unfortunately, the lessons learned in Texas did not prevent the Deepwater Hori-zon spill. Once certain patterns of behavior take root, they can be frustratingly slow to change even after they have been identified. 2. Do our leaders account for and respect the need for the organizational capacity required to carry out their strategic intent? Even if leaders are clear on strategic in-tent, they can do more harm than good if they fail to consider the resources required to deliver results. We found that a mere 26 percent of employees in successful organizations believe their leaders account for organiza-tional capacity when rolling out initiatives. A project leader from a biotech company described the problem bluntly: “They keep asking us to do more and more with less and less, to the point that we will be doing everything with nothing.” This project leader shared a glimpse of her typical day. “I come home at about 7 p.m., feed my family, and put my daughter to bed,” she said. “By 9 p.m., I’m back to work at the com-puter until about 3 a.m.” She was victimized by a senior leader who was caught in the hindrance trap, but she confided that she was also setting unrealistic expectations for mem-bers of her team who, in turn, experienced similar work– life imbalances. She had essentially become a hindrance trap conduit, assuming that others would also do whatever it took to live up to the often highly unrealis-tic expectations of the senior leader. Such extra unre-ported hours can hide the human costs of organization-al success. For some organizations, it has become the norm to expect employees to work on six projects at 20 percent each, in addition to fulfilling a range of day-to-day re-sponsibilities. Overloaded employees sometimes deliver remarkable results and make their bosses look good for strategy+business issue 73 feature organizations & people

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