In a multinational, the CEO found it hard to make different country organizations share resources with each other. If one country had a shortage, the country manager would rather buy additional equipment, or hire new employees, instead of asking others to pitch in. And even if the country manager would ask another, he would get evasive answers and end up with nothing. The CEO felt the downtime for equipment, and indirect hours for employees, could be optimized, if they would just share more with each other.
The CEO decided to buy a fancy planning system. The selection of a system, customizing it, filling it with data, and training people, took two years (instead of the foreseen one year). But then the CEO happily leaned back, looking forward to the increase in profitability due to lower downtime for equipment and personnel.
After half a year, the numbers had not improved. The CEO questioned his country managers. Why were they still not sharing?
Some of them complained: “We have loaned equipment to another country, but we didn’t get it back on the promised date, and had to disappoint one of our own clients. So now we don’t share our precious resources anymore”. Others said: “Well, we want to share, but you see, customs and other legal hurdles are just making it impossible to exchange resources”. A third group lamented: “We love the idea, but still, when we ask for resources, no one is willing to share” (and they had perfectly plausible excuses why they hadn’t been able to loan their own resources to others).
The CEO hired an additional person to oversee the planning system, and force country managers to share. After another six months, figures had slightly improved. But the person left exhausted and frustrated, as she had to fight everyone, every day, for little benefits. Soon, the numbers went back to what they were before.
Several organizations struggle with the same problem. Rationally, the idea of sharing makes sense. But if you face such a problem, you need to investigate the real problem first. In this case, it wasn’t the lack of a system that was holding people back. The real causes were:
- The lack in willingness to share one’s own valuable resources with others. Fears such as: what if my important client suddenly asks me for this equipment? What if my people don’t want to go to another country? Or when I’d rather keep them to myself?
- The lack of trust that their colleagues would give them their best. What if I ask for someone else’s people, and I get the bad ones, that endanger my relation with my client? Or when I get equipment that is broken down? Who is going to pay for the additional cost of letting the employees travel, or for repairing broken equipment?
- The CEO not pushing for what he really wanted: lower costs for the same amount of profit. This was a fairly entrepreneurial organization. Once the country managers understood the CEO wanted a higher usage of the equipment and personnel to increase profit, they worked harder to get extra projects, especially in otherwise quiet periods, to show they really needed their equipment and people themselves. And when pushed for lower costs, they did start to share the expensive, rarely used resources, as they didn’t want to defend those high costs on their balance sheet anyway.
There are numerous similar examples. Systems, or procedures, or models are implemented, meant to solve problems that have to do with behavior of people. Before you implement a solution, make sure you have a good understanding of the real underlying problems. Then come up with solutions that address the behavior you want to change, instead of allowing such evasive behaviors.