The Exhausted Improvisors

July 20, 2012 by  

part 1 of the “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” series

In the intangible capital version of Joni Mitchell’s lyric, it’s sometimes easiest to understand how intangible capital works by illustrating what happens when it’s “gone.” Over the coming months, I will examine four syndromes caused by intangible capital weaknesses. This month, I’ll describe the first of these called “The Exhausted Improvisors.”

Teams or companies with this syndrome re-invent the wheel every day.  Instead of creating tools to get their work done more efficiently, they improvise. Different people do the same task in different ways. There’s no system that ensures that work gets done in the fastest, most efficient and most effective way. So they muddle through using all their energy to solve today’s crises rather than creating repeatable systems and processes.

Examples of Exhausted Improvisors include:

  • The software and service company with great products but weak project management processes. Their clients were still happy but their employees were really worried because they knew how chaotic things were behind the scenes-until they created a project management process.
  • The healthcare staffing company that had a great business but was having a real hard time growing (not to mention being at great risk) because all the knowledge about the company’s candidates and customers existed almost exclusively in the heads of key employees-until they created databases and procedures to capture this knowledge.
  • The specialty contractor that ordered millions of dollars of materials for client projects and kept them in a warehouse until they were needed. But a lack of systems meant that they didn’t know what they had and often had to double order and pay for overnighting product-until they created a more robust inventory ordering and management system.

We’ve all been there at one time or another. But it can be hard to see what’s really going on in the thick of day-to-day operations. We all tend to focus on solving today’s problem rather than creating a permanent solution.

The start of the summer holidays is a great time to think about this syndrome. You will have people out on vacation and realize that no one knows how to do what they do. And, maybe, you’ll have some down time while your clients are on vacation to actually do something about it. End the exhaustion of improvisation. You’ll build sustainable intangible capital that will help you grow and improve performance. Not a bad outcome of the summer doldrums.

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