Beware of the first straw on the camel’s back

There is an old saying about the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Whilst this is a valid statement, in management, one must pay more attention to the first straw.
Whether it’s people, processes, the economy, markets, even disruptive technologies the first significant sign of change is important. Ignoring it, just like ignoring a 60-year-old’s first heart attack, can be fatal.

This does not necessarily mean managers must jump at shadows, but they must pay close attention and assess the impact of anything that suggests a shift is at hand.

Often it is wise to look for patterns – to understand if a change is an aberration or the start of something new.

If an employee quits and as part of their exit raises concerns about their work environment, culture, responsiveness of superiors, work-load or frustration, these are important warning signs.

Similarly, customers that change their spending patterns, positive or negative should be given due consideration.

More importantly, the actions of non-customers is critical. What are their behaviours and how will it affect the organisation?

Adherence to core values too must not be ignored. Either those that depart from them may not be the right fit, or the core values and mission require re-evaluation.

Managers must actively look for indicators inside and outside their organisation. If the indicators form a pattern then immediate attention must be paid to them.

From little things, big things grow, and ignoring the little things until they become large problems can dangerous. When bad behaviours gain momentum or the market or environment has shifted beyond expectations it may be too late to rectify.

It takes significant effort for managers to dedicate some of their energies to these matters in addition to what they consider their core responsibilities, but focusing their attention on these will ensure they are not caught out by the ever changing environment.

A good practice is to have controls, not control, in place to provide real-time feedback, (and this needs an article in its own right), but not all such indicators can be managed with controls. 

Time must be dedicated each day to understand the internal and external environments and asses what must be done, if anything, to address them.

The last straw will break the camel’s back, so to avoid such a catastrophe, managers must ensure that no straws pile up in the first place.


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