Floor Tape Store

Monday, October 17, 2022

Too Many Initiatives, Too Much Overload

Having too many initiatives is a common problem in our workplaces. Leaders pile “critical” work onto everybody’s to-do list and stress levels increase. Cracks start to appear in the fabric of our teams as the pressure mounts.

When there are too many priorities on which to realistically focus our effort, the feeling of progress we create is an illusion. Almost every organization I have worked for is trying to do too much, with too little.

Perry Keenan of BCG talks about the ‘increasingly artificial split– between running the business and changing the business’. (You can watch the four minute video here)

He talks about the issues with too many initiatives, saying ‘Arguably, it is in fact easier to add an initiative than it is to stop one because there’s a lot of connection – political, emotional, historic– a set of factors which means it’s not easy to stop initiatives. It’s often not easy even to slow them down.’ He goes on to advise, ‘If you’re going to add in new initiatives, then be very thoughtful about what it means for the initiatives that you already have in play and the demands that you’re placing on your people. Once again, we all too often, in theory, assume that there is an infinite pool of highly capable people available to deliver the strategic initiatives. It’s a finite resource. And therefore, it has to be managed in a very definitive way.’

When we have too many priorities, we agree to take on too much work. The obvious consequences at an individual level include stress, feelings of overwhelm, with the potential for burnout. All of these lead to potential issues with health, wellbeing and disengaged teams.

At a cultural level, there are consequences too. Organizations and the teams within them start to build a culture of failure. People joke about failing projects and expect delays. Teams keep working to the deadline they know is impossible, until someone tells them to stop.

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to priorities is that nothing is important, when everything is at the top of the list.

If everything is a top priority, you actually don’t have any priorities and you’ll struggle to focus your effort.

The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do and the essence of execution is truly not doing it. That may sound simple, but most organizations struggle to kill initiatives, even those that no longer support their strategy.

A Harvard Business Review article, Too Many Projects, Hollister and Watkins talk about how to deal with initiative overload. It opens saying ‘it’s surprisingly hard for organizations to kill existing initiatives, even when they don’t align with new strategies. Instead, leaders keep layering on initiatives, which can lead to severe overload at levels below the executive team.’ The article cites six further reasons for why this change overload occurs

  1. Impact blindness: executive teams can be oblivious to the number and cumulative impact of the initiatives they have in progress.
  2. Multiplier effects: leaders have a line of sight into their own groups’ initiatives but a limited view of other groups’ activities. Because functions and units often set their priorities and launch initiatives in isolation, they may not understand the impact on neighboring functions and units
  3. Political logrolling: Executives tend to be strongly invested in some “signature” projects and may garner resources for them through implicit agreements to support their peers with their projects
  4. Unfunded mandates. Leaders want a project to happen but don’t have the resources to put to it. Instead just adding it to the ‘business as usual work’.
  5. Band-Aid initiatives; this is a proliferation of initiatives designed to solve a problem, but without address the root causes of the problem in the first place
  6. Cost myopia; leaders fail to estimate, or underestimate the human cost of multiple initiatives on performance, motivation, morale, stress and so on.

If you want to tackle the problem of project overload, Hollister and Watkins advise taking these six steps:

1) Start counting. Calculate the number of initiatives active across your organization.

2) Assess each initiative. Why is it needed? What is the required budget? How many people are required to ensure its success? What impact does it have on the company as a whole?

3) Encourage communication. Senior leaders must work together to establish priorities in a way that works for every department individually and for the company as a whole. They should also ask for and take on board feedback from below, in order to efficiently assess what projects should stay and what projects should go.

4) Put in place a “sunset clause”. When a new initiative is launched, specify an end date for funding. If the initiative is not having a significant positive impact on the business when that date arrives, it can then be easily killed off.

5) Make regular assessments. Just because an initiative is necessary this year doesn’t mean it will be necessary in 12 months’ time. Make sure each initiative is required to reapply for funding on a regular basis, demonstrating its ongoing value to the business.

6) Spread a positive message. Make it clear that killing off an initiative doesn’t mean it was a failure. Explain there is a limit to the number of initiatives the company can run at any one time.


If your company is suffering from project overload, you have to focus on the benefits of cutting back – and learn to say no.

Leaders must say no to compelling opportunities so that we can say yes to others. Saying yes to everything means we lack strategic focus, just as saying no to everything suggests we lack creativity and a willingness to take a risk. Strategic leaders use no to create the business of the future.

Necessity is the mother of invention. When we must, we will. Through the seemingly limitless potential of human ingenuity, we continue to make “the impossible, possible.” From a man on the moon to the unprecedented speed of discovery and development of a vaccine in response to a worldwide pandemic. 

Strategic leaders create… and find a way.

Subscribe to my feed Subscribe via Email LinkedIn Group Facebook Page @TimALeanJourney YouTube Channel SlideShare

No comments:

Post a Comment