Dec 10

Is It Time To Apply The Brakes?

Heinz Landau
Heinz Landau is a seasoned business leader who has gained valuable working and leadership experience on three different continents.

We often talk about employees burning out, but companies can burnout as well. Organizations in growth mode sometimes try to do too much, too fast. Never–ending , hard–charging activity and change inside an organization – that’s what authors Heike Bruch, professor of leadership at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, and Jochen Menges, lecturer in human resources and organizations at the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School,  call in their excellent Harvard Business Review article “The Acceleration Trap”.

Executives and managers need to recognize when this is happening, so that they can take adequate measures to overcome the acceleration trap and spare their employees.

Companies often take more than they can handle. The result, as pointed out by Bruch and Menges, can be reduced employee motivation, higher employee fluctuation, as well as a corporate focus scattered in too many directions, causing confused employees and customers,  a weakening  brand and, as a consequence, poor performance.

The acceleration trap shows up when employees have too many activities without having adequate resources; in case of lots of unfocused and misaligned activities, and when management gets into the habit of constant change.

Bruch and Menges recommend four ways to break free from the acceleration trap: clarify your strategy, stop less important work, create a system to select projects and declare an end to the current mode of hyper-activity.

Leaders have to make sure that the company’s energy level is sustainable. This means being vigilant, even when things are going smoothly, for signs that the organization is slipping into the acceleration trap.

Leaders have to make sure that the company’s energy level is sustainable. This means being vigilant, even when things are going smoothly, for signs that the organization is slipping into the acceleration trap.

When a friend of mine from Germany recently sent me the above stated article by Bruch and Menges, it reminded me about my time of reflection after I had left my previous company, Merck Ltd., Thailand a couple of years ago. After having been for 16 years at the helm of Merck Ltd., Thailand as Chairman and Managing Director, I was thinking what could I have done better or what would I do differently next time.

Together with the employees, we had written an incredible success story with profitable double digit sales growth in 13 out of 16 years. I would say that under my leadership, it was a 365 days a year a full throttle (high speed and high energy)–event. We hardly ever took the foot of the gas pedal. From my reflections after I had left the company, I concluded that the full throttle–style comes with quite some side–effects. Therefore, I need to do better next time.

Many of us had a rather poor work–life-balance. There was even a saying at our office that our female employees won’t have the time and the chance to find a boyfriend unless they had one before joining our company. We carried out a lot of projects, often adding additional workload. And I myself was the major culprit in launching so many projects. The good thing is that all the projects were supporting the implementation of our vision and strategy. But by now, I am pretty sure that less (projects) would have been more (in terms of company performance).

At the same time, we became one of the most innovative companies delivering outstanding business results for more than a decade. And, most of the time, we had fun working together.

By now, having become a bit wiser, despite all the success that we had, I would surely take off my foot from the gas pedal at certain periods of time in order to give the organization and its employees time to reflect, to retreat and to recharge their energy. Like this, the typical side-effects like negative impacts on one’s family and other relationships, health and stress can be significantly reduced or even avoided.

This entry was posted on Friday, December 10th, 2010 at 01:07 and is filed under Leadership, Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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