I have been working for you, as a consultant and additionally as one of your employees.

Recently, I had a dinner with some of your great, flexible resources. Wine and food were excellent. After some time, all our discussions were very open.

During dinner, I was told about the tons of projects that your resources are involved in and the millions of our strong Swiss francs that have been assigned to those projects. Furthermore, I was informed that many of your resources work on the same problems as they did a few years ago. And did you know how many meetings they enjoy attending every week? I think you would be surprised.

Last but not least, I should not forget to mention all the great new ideas that your resources are wishing they could realize. Many of these ideas already existed 4 years ago, but with different managers paying for their implementation. I ask myself, why are you trying to do the same thing again when it failed a few years back? Did you learn from the experience? At this very moment I was thinking back to one of my business school professors who taught us the concept of “organizational forgetting”*. I remember how the professor stressed the importance of intentional forgetting, which leads to innovation and the creation of new cultures. However, he also mentioned how accidental forgetting, as in your case, can hinder a company from improving and adapting to a changing environment.

Dear large corporation, thank you very much for the great dinner. I think I understand your situation well. You feel pressure on costs and your revenues are shrinking – you know you are an in urgent need of a change to your business model. At first, it seemed like a good idea that you started those innovative projects and assigned all your flexible workers from your resource pools to the projects. Starting the projects was an easy decision for you as your several layers of management convinced you of the positive NPV of every single project, while very few were asking any critical questions. But now, after some time, you are very afraid that you will have to invest too much, the projects will be delayed and there is neither visible improvement nor innovation. Sadly, your need for change will not disappear.

I am sorry for you and I understand your fears. If it helps you; I have analyzed your projects from an HR perspective and I found out that…
  • Many of your best people are assigned to more than three different large projects at the same time and are struggling to find quality time to think of great solutions for your real problems.
  • Your various resource pools of aligned skills and people that are trained for efficiency and forever repeating the same patterns won’t help you to change and “innovate”.
  • Your project workers complain that they have weekly alignment meetings with at least 5 different stakeholders.

In addition, when asking your project team members about a “flag bearer” in the top management with vision and commitment to make changes happen, people looked at me with strange, questioning faces. There was such a manager once, they said, but this was long before and there have been 5 large reorganizations during the last 2 years.

Dear large corporation, let me give you some advice on what you should try to improve your situation:
  1. Choose the most important 1-3 change projects that are critical to your success in the future. You will know which those are; just listen to your gut feeling and reflect on your top-level vision and strategy.
  2. For an innovation project ̶ as I assume most of these strategic projects are ̶ assign the best people 100% of their time. Don’t build on your resource pools and their streamlined thinking and skills; choose people that are complementary and are willing to change things. Build a team. Give them responsibility and put them in the driving seat.
  3. For each of these projects, find an executive board member that links her personal career to this, “her” project. Give her full accountability. Make this her project. Let her communicate her project vision and goals to the team. Please choose a leader, not a manager.
  4. Use the power of intentional organizational forgetting: plant a seed that can grow outside the shadow of the big mother tree. Doing this means freeing your newly built teams from organizational process burdens and hundreds of alignment meetings in order to please the old culture. Give your teams freedom; trust them and they will please you with new ideas and new business models that work.
Dear large corporation, do you agree with me on this? Do you need some help for the implementation of my advice? I am very much interested in follow-up discussions. Let me know if you have some time to meet.

*http://ie.academia.edu/PabloMARTINdeHOLAN/Papers/709800/Organizational_forgetting_as_strategy