I was well aware of the idiom; “Beating or Flogging a dead horse”. Which means wasting time persevering with something that’s foreclosed, concluded, decided or dead. While ago, I saw a viral email (source unknown), which shared the wisdom and notion of the dead horse theory, which is probably based on the same idiom. The viral email and its contents were as follows:
The tribal wisdom of the Plains Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that:
“When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”
However, many leaders and organizations relent and persevere with the dead horse and more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:
1. Buying a stronger whip.
2. Changing riders.
3. Appointing a committee to study the horse.
4. Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride dead horses.
5. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included
6. Reclassifying the dead horse as living-impaired.
7. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.
8. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.
9. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.
10. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance.
11. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses.
12. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.
And, of course…
13. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.
I found the above satirical viral email (source unknown) rather interesting and thought provoking. Attempting to put the above in context, let me begin my post in which I will present some of my perspectives and opinions on how the corporate world keeps beating some of the dead horses instead of dismounting them.
In the corporate world the dead horse theory is often seen at play in many areas but some of the prominent areas in my observation are; Strategy, Policy, Processes, Technology and People.
How often have you seen a dead and an irrelevant strategy being defended and persevered, dead strategies which aren’t delivering results or are making the desired impact. I have seen it a few times and I have confronted and challenged it as much as I can. Must say that, if not always, I have often succeeded in convincing people to stop beating the dead horse (persevering with the dead strategy) and instead mount a new one. About a decade ago when I used to work for a top company in the Asia Pacific region as their HR Business partner, I remember challenging my talent acqusition team on the old and irrelevant strategies of attracting talent from Engineering and MBA Schools. The old strategy included focussing on pre-recruitment season talks at the campuses, recruiting a few interns and some graduates. The war for talent had intensfied and if we had persevered with our old strategies then we would have lost the plot. The new strategy was not about just recruiting talent, it was all about building a employer brand which was valued internally and externally by the talent, it was about engaging with the talent in campuses throughout their academic period and not just before the recruiting season. Mounting a new horse did pay off as we were successful and managed to attract and retain very good talent. I often find many companies complaining about the war for talent and how the talent shortage is affecting their business. I say, look at your strategies and if they are a dead horse then dismount and ride a new horse. Complaining and persevering with your old strategies is like beating a dead horse and it won’t help.
POLICIES and PROCESSES is another area, where we keep beating the dead horses. We often criticize our governments for its lack of sensitivity towards the needs of its people and how slow and beuracratic they are when it comes to changing policies and processes that are irrelevant. Now think about your organisation, do you see policies and processes that are dead and how long do we take before we revise or change them and make them relevant? Google as a company is a case in point where they have become a Top Employer in such a short time and it’s coz of their culture, ethos, people related polices and processes – they are very relevant to the needs of today’s top talent and hence they are able to attract and retain top talent. It’s more than just the free gourmet food that they serve to their employees, be it their paternity leave policy or their process of making work more meaningful, it’s a whole range of things. They fortunately don’t have a plethora of legacy polices and processes and hence what they have and ride are new horses in the area of their people related practices. It will be interesting to see how they stay ahead and don’t get caught up with their own legacy as they grow, mature and age. But this is one company which is a true benchmark. Read this blog on what makes Google a top employer as assessed and declared by Glassdoor in their annual list of “50 Best Places to Work,” http://goo.gl/04e3pE
TECHNOLOGY is another classic area where we live with and flog irrelevant and dead technologies and coz of various reasons we don’t upgrade the technology or the skills required to upgrade it. This causes serious efficiency and productivity issues as compared to competition and sets many companies back. Enterprise-wide, integrated, efficient, secured and standard technology platforms across the company is every corporations goal. But the pace at which the technology is changing and evolving, it’s rather hard to decide when you dismount the dying tech platform horse and mount a new one. And the horse of technology comes at a cost, which is difficult to capatilisze coz of its shorter life cycle even when compared to fashion. In my observation as compared to the cost of technology the bigger issue is the know how and competence of the leaders about the changes, evolution and real benefits of newer technologies. Hence most are often beating a dead horse of a technology platform, thinking it’s alive.
When it comes to PEOPLE – how and when to consider them a dead horse. The corporate world’s leaders and their beliefs, thinking, philosophy and ethos is basically divided in three categories. 1) There are leaders and organizations with a harder view and approach and as per them when people reach their level of incompetence (Peter Principle http://goo.gl/yGPUYe) then those people (“Dead Wood”) should to be separated and exited from the organisation – either on grounds of non-performance or in a wave of restructuring and downsizing. 2) Then there are those who have a more softer and socialistic view and approach and they believe that people can never be termed as “Dead Wood” or Dead Horse – until they retire or literally die. 3) Then there are those who have a blended view and approach of the earlier two explained, they are neither too hard nor too soft and socialistic.
In my perspective PEOPLE whom we term as HUMAN RESOURCES are the most valuable resources of any organisation and it’s the responsibility of any good organisation and its leaders to invest in developing and growing their people and keep them employable. However, the responsibility of the PEOPLE towards themselves and their organisation is to ensure that they take a lead and co-ownership of their development (Knowledge, skills, values and attitude) and ensure their own employability.
In my opinion a person can be termed as a dead horse in an organisation when they are consistent non-performers and makes no effort or shows no willingness to improve their performance and skills. People who are dis-engaged and are uncapable of engaging others and creating value for their organisation are like horses that are about to die. Last but not the least, people with lack of integrity and or unacceptable standards of ethics are serious dead horses. Organizations and leaders should definitely dismount these type of dead horses and find and mount good ones.
Would love to hear your views, opinions and perspectives on this.