If you've ever worked in a nimble environment, and you've also had the experience of working in a less-than-nimble environment, then you already know exactly what organizational drag is.
Org drag is the outcome of all the obstacles to getting things done in your organization. Obstacle = unnecessary runaround to someone.
Now of course to HR and Legal and Finance and certain individuals the obstacles are not obstacles but rather appropriate process. And this, to an extent, is true. More often: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In my view, there should be more "fights" at the introduction of new policy or process or procedure or any other organizational "p"—"Is this truly necessary? And, if so, what are the appropriate constraints to be placed on the initiating team? When does the process become more of a problem than the original problem?" A friend recently shared a story from their (large) organization where VPs have contract signing authority of less than six figures. To some: an appropriate control. To everyone else: extreme org drag vibes.
Org drag is also the product of an organization, team, or individual trying to do too many things at the same time. When everything is a priority, nothing is. Individuals and teams and departments operating at full capacity is great from a productivity measurement perspective, but less so when the objective is to get something completed and not just being busy. "Busy" cuts both ways.
The authors of "Time, Talent, and Energy" (Michael Mankins and Eric Garton) who originated this perfect idiom, also point to email and meetings and phone calls (and while the book was published pre-pandemic, I'll bet they would have called out Zoom as well) as perpetrators of org drag, too. And yeah, I get it, it's starting to sound like everything causes org drag, which is a sentiment I suspect holds more truth than we'd like it to.
So then why does org drag matter? Well it limits the organization's potential. Reducing org drag would improve organizational outcomes. While that's true, it's important to note that org drag doesn't seem to be disastrous, at least to traditional healthcare delivery organizations, as most of those have been around longer than any of us.
Much, much, much more importantly then: org drag makes organizations ... not great places to work. Organizational drag—as Mankins and Garton point out in their book—wastes an employee's time, diminishes their talents, and saps their energy. The energy argument is the one that really resonated with me because ...
Org drag makes it harder for any individual to care. I'm talking about care used in all its definitions. Not good for a healthcare delivery organization.
The conversation on org drag doesn't come down to eliminating it because that would be impossible; it's about having a dialogue on its sources and how much exists and how much is appropriate given what we're out to achieve. Almost always, I suspect, the amount of org drag far outmeasures the organization's aspirations, let alone its quarterly objectives.
That makes overcoming org drag an organizational problem, not an individual one.
Because transformations aren't happening, at least not at the speed for which they are desired, when org drag is so thick every employee can feel it. And that, as the authors of "Time, Talent, and Energy" note, leads to this: "Many of today's complex organizations have become soul-crushing institutions."
Asking candidly: Who wants to give their time, talent, and energy to a place that does that?
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