Quick exercise: Make a list of all the people in your org. who are needed on so many projects that their very lack of availability is literally keeping you from hitting deadlines and executing critical initiatives – even doing the unique and critical work required to add new top line revenue. Don’t just groan and say you have people like that. Of course you do. Write down their names.
Who Is Slowing You Down?
If you’re like most of the C-level execs I work with every day, it won’t be a long list, probably 10-12 for a team of 500. It also isn’t a secret list. Everyone knows who they are because so many people are waiting for them at one time or another. Whole teams of people all over your org are held up pending feedback, trying to start meetings, needing approvals, and postponing decisions. The clock is ticking while they wait. Progress can only move as fast as these people are available to participate. I’ve adopted a name for these folks initially coined by Wayne Shurts at Sysco Foods. They’re your “pacers.”
Pacers: The unique individuals on your team who are slowing your top line revenue growth.
Who Are Your Pacers?
Pacers have a rare combination of experience, technical expertise, judgment and political capital. Sometimes they also have power, but often they are not senior leaders. They’re just really smart and really good at their jobs. Over time, they become indispensable, so much so that when anything “big” happens, they get a call. Pacers are often very hard to manage because they operate outside of the regular org structure. Their own manager may or may not even know what they’re doing because so many people in the larger organization draw on them. They become a “global resource” governed by the new email at the top of their inbox, or the new meeting someone managed to get on their calendar. Prioritizing their time has less to do with what is best for the business and much more to do with whoever grabs them in the hallway for a “quick question.”
The Inevitable Bottleneck
Inevitably, pacers get bogged down in problems and projects that are “big” for the wrong reasons. For example, I was just working with an exec for a major financial services firm and she was bemoaning a federal regulatory change that had come down recently. All of their “best people” had to pivot to respond quickly or they could risk losing their license. Dutifully, all of the pacers (and dozens of other workers) dropped what they had been doing to spend nearly three months working on this fire drill. This is not a flaky organization. They are extremely conservative and disciplined. They just felt they had no choice. With so many of their pacers focused on saving their license, guess how many new products were released and how much new revenue opportunity was realized during this window of time…
Another VP-level client recently told me about a data analyst who works outside of his organization, but is routinely needed by his team. This pacer was “too busy” to work on an RFP for a billion dollars in new business. That is billion with a “B.” What could be more important? Turns out he had too many other meetings on his calendar.
Or, what about the new strategy written by a client of ours who just took over as president? By the end of this year, millions in new revenue is expected as a result of implementing her strategy. The only problem is that the 12 people on the “steering committee” aren’t able to get together. They’re spread across all functions of the business including product, operations, IT, finance, legal, etc., and each of them is buried in day-to-day tasks already. Something has to give or the strategy (and the revenue) is at risk.
What work are your pacers holding back? How much top line revenue is at stake?
Do the Math
For fun, I’d like to have you write the first names of your pacers in the comments section and count them up. Then, make a guess on how much revenue growth is slowed because they’re doing something else. I asked that question yesterday of a prospective client and he gave me two names and said “tens of millions.” Once you’ve done that quick analysis, share that list with your executive and other colleagues and see if they agree or would modify your list. See if they think it would be worth solving this problem.
Shortly, I’ll write another post and give you some practical ideas on what to do about this talent risk management issue. In the mean time I’ll look forward to seeing your list.