Identifying Corporate Procrastination

Procrastination, or failure to act, is one of the biggest challenges in business. Regardless of whether you are CEO of a multinational corporation, MD of your own limited company or a solo entrepreneur, all businesses suffer from inertia or procrastination from time to time. Identifying Corporate Procrastination is the first step in overcoming it.

Sometimes procrastination can be as simple as overwhelm in an individual, which prevents them from seeing past the pile of paperwork on their desk or the unread mail in their in-box. At other times, this can be collective paralysis when the senior management team has too many voices with conflicting suggestions, which make it almost impossible to pick out the right message from the cacophony. Or it might be the inability of a large organization to alter course in response to a change in the business environment, because of excessive or constraining process or legislation, or an over-reliance on historical precedence.

Procrastination usually takes one of three forms:

  • Individual Overwhelm
  • Collective Paralysis
  • Titanic Obliviousness

Individual Overwhelm
In the first case nothing ever gets done, because there is no place to start. This is sometimes colloquially known as rabbit-in-the-headlight syndrome. The deadline is past, the opportunity is missed, or an entrepreneur’s business venture never sees the light of day. There are plenty of statistics about how many business start and then fail within one, two or five years, but no meaningful information about how many great ideas never get off the ground through procrastination. For a business coach or indeed another person taking an interest, individual overwhelm is quite easy to spot.

Collective Paralysis
The second case, Collective Paralysis, the inertia is procrastination in stealth mode. The subjects will be unaware that they have a problem. If it is the senior management team, they will no doubt be able to show evidence of movement or progress, with minutes evidencing the steps towards a decision, but still the net result is no actual movement. Sometimes this covert procrastination is covered up by excessive requests for further information, and an almost obsessive need to overcome all objections. This can quite often occur at team level, when too many people are talking but no-one is listening.

Titanic Obliviousness
In the third example, it is not always obvious that anything is out of place. The organization is progressing according to projections, all the numbers are looking good, there are no alarm bells ringing and the ship is steady underfoot. Unfortunately, the potential danger may be the iceberg somewhere ahead, so it is no use just looking at the internal gauges of progress. The need to change course rapidly requires mental agility, which may not be the strong suit of the crew that got you where you are today. One possible warning sign of this form of procrastination is that there is a lot of talent leaving the organization.

Procrastination Worst Case
The worst case scenario is a combination of all three forms of procrastination! An organization which is steaming along nicely and does not realize what lies ahead, a dysfunctional senior management team too busy talking up their own interests to respond to new ideas from outside, and a Captain or CEO who has spotted the obstacle ahead but does not know what to do, or has too much work, or just does not realize what is possible. Do you recognize that scenario?

Where To Get Help
If you are a solo entrepreneur starting a new business venture, or the multinational CEO, the last thing you want to focus on is failure. But if you address the common reasons for failure, you’ll be much less likely to fall victim to them yourself. That is the purpose of a mastermind group, and why quotes from some of the greats can often help.

  • One of my favorite quotes in business coaching is actually from Arthur C. Clarke: The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible. In other words imagine what might be possible, and try it.
  • Another quote which works for me is from Samuel Johnson – Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome. Allow sufficient time for the objectors and nay-sayers to have their moment, and then make up your own mind. Decide on the new course, commit yourself to your chosen direction by documenting your decision, and finally act upon that decision.
  • In case you fall into the trap of thinking that you still do not have enough information to make a decision, then heed the words of Albert Einstein: Imagination is more important than knowledge.

All businesses suffer from inertia or procrastination from time to time, but a good executive business coach can help us identify the problem and point us in the right direction. All we need then is a little imagination and the fortitude to decide, commit and then act.

The Seven Pitfalls of Business Failure And How to Avoid Them by Patricia Schaefer