“That’s the best strategic planning event our credit union has ever been through.”
I’m proud to hear that time and time again when I complete a strategic planning session with a new credit union client. But when it comes to following up and holding credit union leaders accountable at the agreed upon benchmarks after the strategic planning session, I see one determining factor between the leaders who work their strategic plan, and those who aren’t successful: task saturation.
Task saturation is the perception or the reality of having too much to do and not having enough time, tools or resources to get them accomplished. Sometimes it’s true, and sometimes it’s mere perception. When the primary leader in charge of accomplishing some of the action items and holding other leaders accountable for other action items is already task saturated, I find credit union strategic planning action items are cast aside in favor of the daily fires that pop up.
Harvard Business School published a working paper in 2017 on task selection and workload. It found what HBS termed task completion bias: As people experience higher workloads, they select easier tasks to complete, which not only has diminishing returns as workload increases, but few of the more important tasks for a credit union employee are easy. Additionally, the longer-term effect is consistent with a lack of learning because the team members are not challenging themselves. The researchers found that better structuring work will bolster individual development and organizational performance.
To emphasize the point, consider Critical Care Air Transport Teams (CCATTs), an integral component of the United States Air Force evacuation paradigm. A 2014 study published in Military Medicine found the incidence of task saturation in simulated CCATT scenarios led to task-saturated teams experiencing adverse patient outcomes 91% of the time versus 23% for nontask-saturated teams.
If this sounds familiar and your credit union would prefer to succeed more than it fails, here are three things you can proactively do before your next strategic planning event to remove task saturation:
- Define whether task saturation is real or perceived. You may believe it’s real, but at least be open to the possibility that when you feel “too busy,” it is actually lack of prioritization or proper delegation. One thing I ask my team to do (and do personally as well) is to replace “I didn’t have time” with “it wasn’t a priority.” When you change your words and start having to answer what was a higher priority than what didn’t get done, you’ll start to see that perhaps your task saturation is avoiding the big projects out of fear. Fear of not knowing where to start, fear of not having the tools or resources to start, or lack of proper prioritization of your to-do list. If you are truly unable to get to working your strategy, your strategic plan should include removing task saturation and how you’re going to delegate work.
- If you are truly task saturated, delegate. That can be a daunting task for many leaders. “But we’re a small credit union; we just don’t have the people.” You may be right, so it’s time to take inventory of some areas you can cut. Take inventory of products, services, contracts, processes, etc. that cost time and money. Ask: Why are we doing this? If your only answer is “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” you’ve just found some time and/or budget dollars to remove task saturation. One credit union that walked through this exercise several months ago freed up enough budget to hire a new accounting person and gave the CEO more than 8 hours a week back in her schedule.
- If task saturation is the elephant in the room, tackle it during your strategic planning event. One question we assign to each piece of the strategic plan is, “what could hold us back from accomplishing our objectives?” Task saturation frequently makes the list, and we identify ways to avoid this during strategic planning so it’s not an excuse for failure to accomplish our strategic initiatives and goals.
Overflowing inboxes, full schedules and mounting priorities are a way of life. Set aside appropriate time before your next strategic planning event to identify those tasks and distractions that need to be eliminated or delegated. No holds barred! Then you can focus on the higher-level strategic work your credit union and team need from their leader.