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Signs That Your Organization Is Working Too Hard

Posted by Bill Lee on May 16, 2012 at 02:18 PM

We know that a lot of people are overworked working too hard (and not working smart).  The same is true for organizations. Is yours working too hard? Here are some signs of  impending organizational burnout. A better way to look at them would be as opportunities for reducing labor intensity while dramatically increasing organizational effectiveness.

 By the way, most of these are the result of failing to make choices. 

Producing too many varieties of products that require too many choices by customers.  PCs were famous for piling on features that many customers never noticed—of if they did, they found the plethora of features annoying. Companies can fall into this trap when they don’t think deeply about what their customers really value.

Overloading products with features, most of which customers don't care about or are even unaware of. See above comment. 

“We insist on excellence in everything we do!” This approach is, ironically, a recipe for mediocrity as well as burnout. Carefully choose what you’re good at, don’t obsess over the rest. Southwest Airlines, for example, doesn’t worry about the food they serve,  offering a wide variety of planes to fly, or providing a variety of onboard amenities. Instead, SWA focuses on a few key things: get passengers where they want to go, on time, with their baggage, for a fair price and providing a pleasant experience throughout.

Accepting poor product development success rates. This is often done under the belief that successful product development is a “numbers game.” This can be a legitimate strategy for companies who are coming up with the occasional big winner. Some venture capital firms do this with great success. But it can also be a sign of failing to focus. Steve Jobs famously chided Google for developing way too many mediocre products, rather than decide on just a few and make them memorable,  

Requiring lots of employee training.  Providing lots of employee education and training is considered a virtue. But it can sometimes indicate poor job design—companies do a lot of training because the jobs the place employees in aren’t a natural fit for their abilities. You might see this, for example, at companies that frequently reward  employees for heroic customer service.  What happens is that the heroic employees are clearing up messes due to unreasonable job design in the first place.

Striving for "100% referenceability" with customers.  Do you really need—or want—every one of your customers to be “referenceable?” Some customers should be fired, or ignored.

 “WE’RE going to grow this company ourselves.” Companies are increasingly finding that their customers can significanlty help them grow their business. E-commerce firms, for example, often leave customer service to their customer communities. LEGO and 3M find ways to bring customers into its product development or improvement process, resulting in terrific products its internal developers would never have created.  Customers are naturally far more credible and persuasive than corporate spokespeople or agencies, and thus should provide critical help in marketing.

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