Finding the time to rebel - the struggle for SMEs (and maybe for everyone?)

Andrew Ormerod
Written by Andrew Ormerod

Hey

So I've just spent a year or so working in London for a small really cool and very business-minded non-profit.

One thing that struck me again and again while I was there was: I'd love to implement more of the kind of stuff that I did in my previous role, around self-management. But nobody has the time to engage with this material. To make this kind of change work, somebody needs the time and energy to nurture it. I don't have that time. The CEO definitely doesn't have that time. In fact, nobody has time - we are all stretched to the limit trying to deliver on the things we have already agreed, and having a team just large enough to do that is stretching our budget to the max. OK maybe some of this is an artefact of being a non-profit, where money is always going to be tight.

In some sense I get that this is a classic problem. I think of that Hakan Forss diagram of the lego figures pushing the cart with a square wheel saying "we're too busy to innovate".

But in the job before the non-profit, I was working for a company very focused on wanting to work in more effective ways. And even then, we would have great sessions with agile coaches, and come away with a hundred ideas - and have time to implement maybe one of them. Or a half of one of them.

I think this is kind of...well it's the human condition in a way, isn't it? We want to change, but actually change is effortful and mysterious (because in part it involves non-rational emotional/experiential sense making).

But it always seems to be this way in small organisations - everyone is already stretched to capacity keeping the current show on the road. How can senior leaders in SMEs find the time to stop working on acquiring high value clients, and developing new business areas and strategy (which seem to me like worthwhile activities - not busywork!), to start dedicating sufficient portions of their time and energy to support changes to, say, an explicit distributed decision making model (like using the advice process)?

But how do other people get round this (other than just by being less immature, lazy or foolish than me - or working in a higher-margin industry - or being a larger company)?

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