As I move around inside East African enterprises one thing is becoming increasingly clear. Both employees and employers are frustrated by their failure to complete tasks. I’m not talking about assignments that overrun on time or budget, but about projects that never get executed. There are more and more of them; and it must be having a detrimental effect on business.
Let’s look at this from the employees’ point of view. If you go to work for any reason other than receiving your pay, non-completion is going to affect your morale. Most of us want to make progress, and the Millennial generation in particular places great value on receiving recognition for its contribution. Interestingly, the employee engagement studies I review do not equate recognition to remuneration. The two are distinct and separate.
Employees’ ability to complete tasks is directly affected by organisational culture. If that encourages prioritisation, applauds productive relationships across disciplines and is rigorous in redeploying staff members who are in the wrong job, then completion is easier. But if the culture is one of always pursuing new initiatives, overloading teams with demands for pointless innovation and abandoning projects mid-term, then fatigue soon sets in.
Employers and their board members also find non-completion intensely frustrating. Their task is to set direction and enable management to pursue it. Imagine how they feel when repeated reviews produce the same one-word progress report: “Ongoing”.
Organisational culture needs to evolve if business is to make real progress in our region. And I think a good focus for that evolution should be on task completion.
One of the ways we tackle this with our clients is to encourage them to work to the power of three. In other words, to focus on three priorities at any one time and follow them through to whatever completion target they have set.
If I’m honest, we have no idea why the power of three works. It is not drawn from any ancient religion or civilisation. We don’t think it is to do with the sturdiness of the pyramids. We like the idea that storytelling is full of tripartite groupings, from the Three Caballeros to Three Men and A Baby, but we don’t think that’s it.
But we note that sporting contests always have three levels of winner – gold, silver and bronze – and maybe we are getting closer to the truth there. The power of three may well be about the number of objectives the human brain can focus upon and feel comfortable handling.
I can say empirically that the power of three helps people to get things done. So, why not try it?
Chris Harrison leads the Brand Inside