Last week, while talking to a relative from Nakabugu village in Uganda, it became apparent to us that people sometimes work so hard but don’t get positive results for all their hard work.
It’s akin to your hard work going down this massive and bottomless black hole
For your information – the informal/unscientific definition of a black hole is: a place where money or lost items apparently disappear without a trace. In this case, your hard-work disappears without a trace
Our Nakabugu kin, a highly educated person, told us that despite investing significant mental and physical energies in everything that he does, he is yet to attain sustainable positive results from all his investments – he sounded beaten and frustrated and was at the point of surrender.
During our discourse with the Nakabugu kin, who sounded smitten with frustration – we, of course, probed what he considered to be the causes of his woes. The answers ranged from bad luck, the government not fulfilling its mandate to create an enabling environment for businesses, thieving by those he employed to support him, etc.
It surprised us that at no point did our kin question his personal approach to business. May the underlying issue be, himself and not all the external factors he believes are behind his misery?
And apparently – many of you share the same frustration with our Nakabugu village kin. The feeling that all your sweat goes down this black hole and you don’t ever see anything in return. This may happen in a family business, an individual project, and at companies that employ you in 8-5 jobs
For those running family businesses or doing solo work like our Nakabugu village kin – you work so hard but don’t earn enough profit, if at all; for those in employment, you work so hard but fail to meet your business objectives – and may be graded by the boss at the end of your company’s performance cycle – below requirement! This is a frustrating situation to find yourself in.
The long and short is that performance black holes are very frustrating.
The performance black hole syndrome is more often than not a sign of asymptomatic organization-strategy-dysfunction
What causes performance black holes?
Performance black holes are mostly a symptom of inappropriate organization/individual strategy-orientation. The latter is the very reason we are keen to advise our Nakabugu Village kin to consider looking at himself in front of a mirror before he apportions his performance woes to other negative externalities
If you find yourself working so hard but not achieving intended outcomes – the first place to look is your organization strategy toolbox.
- Is there strategic clarity at the firm or individual level?
- If there is such clarity, has the strategy been developed from the vision or mission to tangible works tasks and anticipated outcomes or KPI’s?
- Are the outcomes/KPI’s SMART enough?
- Is there a monitoring system to address unforeseen/emerging strategy dynamics?
We aren’t insinuating at all that performance black holes are only brought about when there is strategic dysfunction. It’s true that external factors raised by our Nakabugu village kin may contribute significantly to wiping away all your performance effort; however, if your organization or individual strategy toolbox is equipped right, you should be able to anticipate or address as and when they manifest, strategy bursting externalities. After all, a strategy is never cast in stone
Remedies for performance black holes
So, how do we get rid of, or at least reduce the frequency of performance black holes at both the individual and organization level?
- Know your journey: know from the outset that effective organization functions as a GPS gadget or system. It can only navigate you to a specific endpoint if you see the endpoint in advance of starting the navigation process. Should the end coordinate change, as it’s bound to in turbulent business environments, the GPS shall be re-calibrated. So, at the very minimum, you have to know your start and end bearings.
- Organisation strategy governance: articulate and assign strategy making mandate. Who defines the overall strategic direction? Who signs off to strategy delivery tools? Who is accountable and responsible for strategy implementation? Who is accountable and responsible for monitoring strategy and fixing, as and when they occur, performance black holes?
- The skills vs. job-at-hand fit: avoid trying to fit square pegs in round holes. Ensure you hire the right skills for the particular phase of an organization’s value-creation cycle. The skills needed to create signature-value change as the organization steers through the various stages of its value creation cycle. Mind you, the only constant at the modern organization is change
- Exit planning: even with the best organization strategy and delivery tools, a plan can fail, ultimately causing performance black holes. Organisations and individuals have to know when to let go of certain business dreams
It’s apparent that performance black holes and solid strategic orientation correlate; managers and individuals may want to pay a little more attention to this twin affair