Improve Organizational Performance: Slow Down that Spinning Hamster Wheel

By: Dan Simovic

I’ve noticed that as we work with various businesses to improve their performance, there is a common theme that we encounter. Old habits are hard to change, particularly when they relate to addressing chronic issues. Fueling this situation is that most of the decision makers are already running fast. They have insufficient time to devote to chronic issues like lack of talent, poor management, low performers, turnover and/or inefficient internal workings between departments. Instead of confronting these obstacles, given their hectic pace, leadership just reactively works around them. I liken it to leaders running fast on a hamster wheel that never slows down.

As consultants, our job is to focus on figuring out how to slow this repetitive and unproductive pace. Note that the operative phrase is “slow down” the frantic pace. Realistically, that wheel rarely completely stops turning. Yet, by merely slowing down the out-of-control spinning, a business has more time and capacity to focus on core issues. Consistent activity – redirected to core tasks – can positively impact profitability and therefore, the bottom line of an organization.

While this sounds simple, there are barriers which keep many businesses from addressing their chronic problems. For example, while they may recognize their organizational challenges, they do not believe that things can substantially improve. Compounding that is that the company may not have sufficient in-house expertise to address the issues. Next, they are looking for a quick fix and are not committed to any sustained effort. Lastly, they feel it is cost-prohibitive to fix the identified problems. So, the wheel keeps on turning faster… and faster.

However, for businesses that do make the commitment to slow down that hamster wheel, we’ve been able to document marked progress over time. Changes are seen in both operational efficiency and within the culture of the organization. Success stories appear to have all the following in common:

It all starts at the top. Supportive leadership is the key success factor. That does not mean that leaders need to be “in the trenches” but it does mean that they demand their team leaders develop a strategic action plan and hold others accountable to execute to execution.

Organizations that do not possess sufficient resources, internal expertise or capacity to drive change, need to be open to using reputable consultants to assist them in driving change. One of our clients interviewed a dozen consulting firms before engaging our firm.  Many consultants are academics and lack any real business experience. That makes it difficult, if not impossible to understand or adequately address very real and functional problems.

Fixes to chronic problems do not happen overnight. They require a sustained effort. The most successful CEOs are the ones who have a clearly articulated vision that they constantly reinforce and monitor with their team. All day to day activities are linked to supporting the company’s stated goals. Regardless of title or role, everyone in the organization must be on the same page and focused on goal-related activities.

Driving change requires an investment of both time and dollars. That investment can be large or small as long as it is moving the organization forward and positively impacting its bottom line. Start with simple and practical solutions to make a quicker impact and to provide the best cost to value exchange. Then tackle those that are more complex, costly and time consuming since those are likely going to be tougher implement and sustain.

The bottom line – slowing down that hamster wheel – making the commitment to taking that first step to drive change, will help your organization to redirect the “wheel-spinning.” That focus on sustainable, long term growth and profitability will drive future success.

Dan Simovic is the President and owner of TAMS Group, a human resources consulting firm in Cleveland, Ohio.  He leads a team of top-notch consultants with expertise in talent management, talent acquisition, compensation design and HR/AAP compliance.

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