Hurry-up and wait

I’ve spotted a trend as this year begins. It’s a frustrating trend for anyone who delivers services to clients. The trend is inertia.

Everyone is full of talk about action, but without much actual… action. We’ve heard more than a few examples of eye-popping opportunities from other consultants and enterprises alike – but with no conversion to action. An endless cycle of hurry up and wait.

While this seems to be waning and the wheels are starting to turn, it made me wonder why this is happening, in so many sectors.

I am not going to use the B-word. But it’s fair to say uncertainty has been an industry buzzword for the last 12 months. As a business who helps organisations prioritise in complex circumstances, uncertainty is kind-of our ‘thing’. To my mind the rapid changes in technology, society and customer expectations have created so much uncertainty in the last decade that operating in this world isn’t new for the sorts of enterprises we deal with, in all of their shapes and sizes.

Reasons for inertia

Another reason for this inertia could be Status Quo Bias and we have a birds eye view of this in our work. The preference for keeping things the same, could be the reason that we see so much ‘business transformation’ which focuses on the ‘appearance’ of an organisation and not the ‘form’ and ‘nature’ (which was brilliantly articulated by our peer and N2D Method partner Jacob Dutton at McCann IO in his recent ‘The Truth About Transformation’ event.) In short, we see some fancy stuff around the edges, but fundamentally the business remains in the status quo.

A third reason we hear a lot is lack of clarity, and lack of clarity creates lack of confidence. An organisation often knows a lot of things it might do, or might be doing. However, clarity about WHY they are doing them (which people in the organisation understand) can be the missing component to driving action. Without it, initiatives often stall.

Tackling inertia

This brings me neatly onto my next point – what to do.

The key is momentum – the impetus gained by a moving object. It’s easier to keep moving once you start. Here’s a few ways to help give things a push:

  1. Start small in your organisation (or get your clients to start small). Get the ball rolling. We call it the ‘thin end of the wedge’. A small thing that unlocks the excitement and anticipation of getting things going in the right direction.
  2. Prioritise ferociously – if you have things stopping you starting, then focus on doing the RIGHT things. Don’t waste energy, it saps motivation and budget. I wrote about how to do this last year, and how we approach it – so I won’t bang on again here.

Better than nothing

One final thing. The alternative to getting started is doing nothing. As an organisation who have started to help clients measure the impact of doing nothing Vs their planned or current initiatives, trust me – this never scores particularly well.

IF doing nothing is your preferred route – then do it intentionally. Don’t ‘do nothing’ due to a lack of momentum, a bias to stay the same or uncertainty (cos this bit of uncertainty will only be followed by more/different types). Do nothing because it’s strategic choice – after all, it’s cheap and takes very little time to implement, or if you’re lucky your customers already really like what you already do and it’s totally future proof…?

If doing nothing has started to sound unappealing, or you think clarity will help you gain confidence or you’re ready for some ruthless prioritising – then perhaps today is the day to get the ball rolling?

Image credit: Jer Thorp