Knowing When to Turn the Auto-Pilot Off

17 Jun 2014 11:59 AM | Louise Stokes

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One of the reasons I think so many organizations are stuck is that they have too much of management set on auto-pilot. There are too many things that we do in managing our organizations that are done automatically, without thinking, and without questioning. Think staff meetings, how we use email, much of Human Resources, the design of our office space, etc.

I understand whey they are on auto-pilot: it reduces the complexity that we face. When we can take some things away from our immediate attention, it frees us up to deal with the other complexities that feel more pressing. And since those other things have seem to have been well for a while, we’re happy to put them on the back burner (to change metaphors) so we can focus on strategy, or social media, or those dang Millennials.

But here’s the problem. While those things sit on the back burner, the world continues to change. What was once useful can easily become not useful, and things we THOUGHT were useful can be discovered to be quite problematic once we learn more about how things work. So the trick is to know when we need to pull some of those things off the back burner and work on them.

Take “meetings,” for example. There’s a nice post on HBR that documents some of the huge waste of time and resources that are put into internal meetings in every organization. It also shares some research: that for every person above 7 that attends a meeting, the chances of being able to make a “good, quick, and executable decision” goes down by 10 percent. Once you’re beyond 17 people, the chances drop to zero. Now not every meeting needs to be about those kinds of decisions, but still, do we think about this when we convene meetings? Or do we convene them because that’s how we’ve always done it.

If you’re not continuously bringing some things off that back burner and reinventing them, then you’re setting yourself up for a slow decline.

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