Planning and Reorganising Masquerading as Work

One of the recurring themes in my writing is that there is not enough planning before action is taken. Maybe what I should have said is that there is not enough effective planning. The distinction is important as far too often too much planning and reorganisation gets in the way of real work. My experience is that there are two main sources for this wasteful work: perfectionism and deception.

Perfectionism is a belief that everything must be perfect. Since nothing can ever be perfect, perfectionists are constantly striving to improve on their work (this is different from constantly striving to improve skills, which is not necessarily a bad thing). The problem here is the perfectionist will get stuck on the initial phases of a project and because he keeps trying to make the plan perfect he never gets to the execution phase of the project.

I am not going to get into the psychological aspects of perfectionism as I do not have the right background. But let me point out the warning signs. The first has to do with missed, or lack of, deadlines. If your team does not have deadlines with appropriate milestones, start building that habit. If deadlines are consistently missed, this is a warning sign of real trouble that might signal perfectionism or worse. To catch this it is important that project updates always have the original deadline and every subsequent missed deadline on all the asks. Human memory is terrible and project managers can easily forget how many deadlines his team missed.

Another sign of perfectionism is the refusal of the team to share drafts of deliverables. The perfectionist finds it so painful to do so that he will come up with any number of excuses to avoid doing it. This is not malicious, it is true psychological pain. Third on the list warning signs is difficulty of delegation of project tasks. This is due to the perfectionist not trusting anybody else to produce ‘perfect’ deliverables.

There are many more, but this sampling of warning signs should give you an idea of why your teams are not delivering.

The other source of wasteful work that I have seen is the intentional pretense of work, disguised as planning and reorganisation,  to fool senior management, the board and even shareholders into believing that the project/company is moving forward. Looking at the board–management dynamic, the drivers behind such behaviour includes: management are clueless about how to do real work (e.g. protecting their jobs by not hiring more competent managers), management are working towards a different goal than that set by the board (e.g. taking unsanctioned risks in the hope of increasing bonuses) and empire retention (e.g. refusing to sell non-core businesses).

The greatest show on earth is the major corporate reorganisation. It has become quite common for new CEOs to reorganise their companies so that they can make it look that they have done something immediately, taking credit for any subsequent profits and blaming previous management for losses. There’s always the favourite trick of over-reserving, blaming previous management, so that the extra reserves are then reversed in a subsequent year and claimed as profit from operations.

The masters of fiction, however, are the CEOs who do this annually. So how does a CEO perform a fake annual reorganisation? There are two paths. For either to work the board must be asleep at the wheel as covered in my operational corporate governance article.

The first path is by the CEO turning on his executive team. The CEO will often work against his performing executives if he feels that the overall corporate performance might reflect badly on him. This is usually done by manipulating the information flow to the board so that the CEO always looks good and his employees look bad. The board’s failure via the Nomination and Remuneration Committee to stay in touch with the executive team seals the deal. This allows the CEO to trigger a reorganisation, quite often creating new titles for no good reason, and gamble the company’s assets for another year.

The second path is to reorganise subsidiaries. If there are enough, then by the time the CEO returns to his first victim subsidiary the board and shareholders have forgotten the first reorganisation. The warning signs here are when theCEO reorganises the best performing businesses. This is a clear sign that the CEO is sidelining successful executives so that he may take credit for their success, either in that year or later years.

Perfectionism can harm a company because it usually is undiagnosed as the perfectionists are not malicious and are working hard.  Good project performance tracking can help here. Fake reorganisations on the other hand do get found out, but sadly this happens when all the performing employees have left and the assets are irreparably impaired. The warning flag here is more than one reogranisation a decade.