I resolve that in 2009 I will blog for Inc.com every day.
CEOs should be gratified that, come January 1, many employees will be making work-related, as well as personal resolutions. This year I will volunteer for at least one new-business-development project. I will network with people outside my department. I will not leave pages of my erotic novel by the printer.
Company leaders, too, are fond of making resolutions for their organizations. And like individuals, they break them more often than not. Here are a few common office resolutions that annually end up in the dumpster of good intentions.
Resolution: We will post mortem all our projects. Reality: Team members are instructed to keep detailed notes and ideas for process improvements, which they do until they forget. At project's end the leader schedules a review, and everyone spends the night before scrambling to come up with one plaudit for another team member (to demonstrate collegiality) and one constructive criticism (to demonstrate analytical thinking). At the review, participants avoid identifying the one person widely acknowledged to be responsible for the worst logjams, unless he criticizes someone else at which point everyone piles on. There are no more post mortems.
Resolution: Meetings will last no more than one hour. Reality: The meeting leader allots a set time for each agenda item, which consistently proves inadequate. Engaged employees grow frustrated when they cannot make their points before the group. Disengaged employees welcome time constraints that excuse their lack of participation, and pay even less attention. Prevented by the clock from reaching consensus, leaders make more decisions in private, raising hackles in the cubicles. Or they table open questions for later discussion, begetting additional meetings. People who talked too much still talk too much. On the bright side, the refreshment tray doesn't run out.
Resolution: We will have daily huddles. Reality: For about a week the six members of your leadership team manage to clear their schedules for 15 minutes at exactly the same time every day. Then the CFO asks to meet an hour later because her kids are on summer-camp schedule. The VP of sales is traveling on the west coast and wants to switch it to the afternoon so he can call in Pacific Time. The general manager keeps showing up late because she was on a call. The meeting bounds around the schedule like a critically acclaimed but commercially tenuous TV series. And like such programs, it is soon gone.
Resolution: We will conduct regular intelligence on designated competitors. Reality: Employees compile a dozen facts about competitors from three or four Web sites and present them to colleagues minus context and analysis. Everyone takes notes. Back in their offices, employees shove their notes in a drawer, along with jottings from the last luncheon speaker and flyers from the dry-cleaning service in the lobby. The CEO discovers he's been outflanked by reading The Wall Street Journal.
Resolution: We will practice mentoring. Reality: High-ranking veteran employees team up with newbies and take them to lunch. After asking a few cursory questions about the employees' goals they revert to boasting about their own accomplishments and dishing five years' worth of office gossip. Back at work, the mentors close their doors and practice looking distracted. The newbies get help from an administrative assistant who knows everything and is generous with her time.
Resolution: We will have more fun. Reality: See everything above and draw your own conclusions.
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan