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A Check in the Box – Not!

A growing and disturbing trend I have been seeing in organizations over the past 2-3 years has been the “check box” approach to managing. Simply put, organizational leadership pushes things down to its management team for it to complete. Managers are then rated as either successfully completing (or not) the assigned tasks. The outcome, whether desired or not, is that nothing actually takes root within the organization – there is simply an exercise that takes place that I refer to as, “a check in the box.”

Check in the box - poorFor example, many organizations have a formal performance review process. Instead of leadership teams working with their management teams on the importance of goal setting, feedback and coaching, the focus is on the completion of a performance review document by a certain date. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether the actual performance review is of any substance or quality, what is most important to the company is that the review is completed, delivered and signed off in advance of some organizational target date – a check in the box. The review becomes a moment in time- something the company, its managers and employees did. It is never referred to again, it doesn’t form part of the culture and it certainly isn’t leveraged as a change agent within the company to facilitate growth and development.

Employee surveys are another activity that I see fall into this category time and time again. Companies survey their staff, because, well they are supposed to, or some HR person told them that they have to. So, the company spends all kinds of dollars to survey their staff and have some high quality reports generated for them. Then, they check off on their “to-do list” that the survey is completed. They don’t go any further with the info or try to make changes; however, they consider themselves successful because the survey was rolled out and completed in advance of a target date – a check in the box. There is no change, nothing within the culture changes that drives growth or future success – it is simply a moment in time….an event that transpired and we are on to the next thing to do.

By now you get the picture – organizational activity is driven on a simple task/completion basis. Things have to get done, so we do them and then we consider ourselves successful because we completed the tasks on time. But do we ever stop and ask what we are trying to achieve? If companies really want to make change, or have people-centric activities take root, they have to look at ways to entrench these activities in their organizational DNA. It has to be a part of the company culture, its brand and its values. Things like performance reviews, employee surveys, continuous improvement projects, ISO 9001 processes, internal audits, etc. have to be a part of a company’s DNA in order for them to be a value add activity. They have to be done because the leadership team believes in the value that they will add and that by being intertwined in the organizational culture, it will help leverage the organization (and its employees) for future growth and success.

The check in the box approach to running a company is a recipe (at best) for short term success. It makes organizations myopic and either stunts or eliminates growth – especially with its employees. If, as an organizational leader, you truly don’t believe in the value of the activity you are about to undergo (see above examples) than don’t do it. Alternatively, if you believe in it, it is incumbent upon you as a leader to help make the connection with your staff and align/entrench the activity in your organizational DNA.

What about you? Have you seen this “check in the box” approach used at companies? How effective has it been? As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net


2 Responses

  1. I have definitely seen things you describe about the check in the box approach that you discuss in different organizations I have worked over the years. Even more, I have observed that in some matters the check in the box does not even happen by the deadline it is scheduled, which says even more about the Organizational DNA. In the matter of employee surverys , employees complain, using statements questioning the point taking time to fill a survey when they never hear the results and/or nothing changes as a result of the feedback.

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