Does Your Organization Have ADD?
As someone who has grappled with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) I recognize the signs when I see the behaviours in others. While there is no diagnostic tool to categorize those behaviours in organizations, I think it’s fair to say that many organizations mirror similar challenges.
For instance, have you ever worked hard to meet a deadline for a project that does not seem to fit with the organization’s strategic plan? Has that deadline changed a few times along the way, becoming more or less urgent for no apparent reason? And after you met the deadline did you discover that your work was not going to be used, at least not immediately?
If so, your organization is probably the type that reacts first and thinks things through later.
Have you ever been involved in the launch of a new program before a previous program has been given time to take root? Or have you noticed when a program that is supposed to cover the whole organization has a different message or content at different levels or divisions of the organization?
If so, your organization is probably the type that has trouble staying the course, and also fails to communicate with any clarity and consistency to employees.
Does your organization turn quickly to outside leaders to run the business or solve its problems during moments of crisis?
If so, it is probably the type that does not recognize the importance of culture or its own values.
There are a hundred other manifestations of organizational behaviours that mirror ADHD. Many organizations are obsessed with deadlines, busy-ness, and change at the expense of careful thought, consistency, and focus. This type of hyperactive responsiveness and quick changes in position, culture (values) and vision is pervasive today.
In humans, ADHD is caused by the persistent firing of neurons in the brain, such that the brain works in overdrive constantly in order to keep up and “feel normal.” In organizations, I would argue that a leading cause of a similar hyperactivity and overdrive comes from the persistent noise of Wall Street with its demands to achieve more and more every 90 days.
What consequences do organizations with ADHD suffer? The anxiety of urgency certainly overwhelms efforts to focus on longer-term objectives. Such organizations also tend to focus on immediate problems at the expense of noticing anything else happening around them. Ironically, as a result, when new opportunities or challenges arise, they do not show awareness or respond in helpful ways or make needed adjustments on time. Organizations with ADHD characteristics also suffer from high turnover, low productivity, and problems with safety, customer service, and quality.
For people with ADHD there are a variety of very helpful treatments. These include a mix of approaches from behavioural training to medical prescriptions. While there are no pills for organizations yet, there are some behavioural changes that can lead to much better results.
For example, ADHD organizations should:
· Encourage face-to-face meetings as much as possible, so that people will need to actually pay attention to one another
· Reward leaders who prioritize what’s important over what’s urgent
· Recognize and reward those who live the values, especially in difficult circumstances
· Set project goals that are clearly linked to helping the organization advance toward its strategic plan and overall vision
· Realize that culture trumps strategy and that values are the root of the culture
· Resist an “Us versus Them” mindset
· Provide sufficient time to get work done and avoid crisis-making through deadlines
· Show appreciation for employee contributions
· Unplug when possible
· Hold people truly accountable by stopping the blame game and excuse making and focusing on performance improvement in line with values
It Gets Better
Like any person, it can be difficult for an organization to come to terms with the idea that it has ADHD. The acceptance is even more difficult emotionally than it is intellectually. But it is only through such acceptance that serious action can result.
When I came to understand that I had ADHD 12 years ago, I learned that self-awareness was 75% of the battle. But without making effort and seeking help you can’t manage the journey alone.
Organizations that become aware of their ADHD need to make sustainable changes to their work processes and culture to create a healthy and desirable place to work. Not only will this payoff in better organizational performance, but also it may distract Wall Street in a good way for a change.