- Have you ever been in a meeting and could swear that you had the exact same conversation the week before?
- Have you ever heard the same topic discussed in about ten different ways by ten different people across your company?
- Have you ever had an eerie sense of déjà vu at work?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you have probably experienced Groundhog Day issues at work.
- Groundhog Day issues (shortened to “groundhogs” in this article): Issues that are talked about over and over again without resolution. The term is based on the popular 1993 Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day” where he plays TV weatherman Phil Connors who must relive the same day over and over again.
Groundhog Day issues are everywhere in our corporate culture no matter the size of the organization or industry that you work in. Groundhogs invade our homes and our personal lives. I have heard and seen groundhogs in pretty much all organizations I have worked with, and I will admit to having a few running around my house too.
What I can say from experience is that groundhogs typically exist in one of two general breeds.
- Ideas, Projects or Initiatives with No Defined Actions – These are projects, initiatives, to-do items or ideas that are talked about, but no one actually moves them forward. By move them forward, this could mean deciding to act or not, to schedule the action, or to put the activity into a “project queue”.
- Positions, Stances or Decisions that Need Explaining – These are positions, stances or decisions that an organization has made that frequently need explaining or justifying.
Let me explain these two breeds and how you and your team can prevent these issues from becoming groundhogs.
Ideas, Projects or Initiatives with No Defined Actions
Most teams and companies have projects that they have never gotten to. People do too. (I have lots.) Let’s be realistic, it is not possible to attack all projects at the same time both in your professional life and in your personal life. If you wake up on New Year’s Day ready to work for your next big promotion, train for the Iron Man, write a book, and find the love of your life—wow, good on you! But, most of us need focus to push forward the things that we REALLY want. I have tried to attack too many goals at the same time many times—and it typically leaves me frustrated, exhausted and with only incremental moves forward on too many goals (that I probably won’t finish anyways). My experience is that moving one or two goals forward in a big way is far more rewarding.
It’s ok to have projects or initiatives that are good ideas that you plan on doing or at least plan on planning on doing or even plan on thinking about planning on doing that are not started yet. BUT it is not ok to let these ideas morph into Groundhogs. Even brilliant ideas can turn into groundhogs if you let your team talk about them too much without deciding what to do about them.
By letting these issues turn into Groundhogs, they become:
- A negative impact your self-esteem and that of your team.
- A waste of mental space.
- A waste of meeting time that should be focused on moving areas forward.
- A waste of resources.
- A terrible cultural norm.
So how can you stop ideas from turning into Groundhogs?
The solution is to decide and document. You need to document how you are going to deal with the idea or initiative before it becomes a Groundhog. You could document with your team or else communicate how it will be addressed to your team through email, project files, a whiteboard, or whatever. The point is that you need to put it in writing. This will immediately stop the Groundhog from growing.
Through your decision and documentation process, put your ideas into the following buckets to prevent them from becoming Groundhogs:
- Do It Now – Perhaps the idea is something pressing. Perhaps there is time available to take action. Perhaps there is a short window to make the idea happen. Make the decision to do the idea or initiative now. This could mean assigning the idea to a team member or doing it yourself. Document the decision to put the idea onto your or your team’s current project list. Then take action.
- Next Action/Project – Most teams or people have projects that they are working on already and it may be impossible or impractical to start a new idea while these other projects are still ongoing. So, put the idea on the next action or project list. The idea will be sitting essentially in the “queue” for you or your team to take on. The great thing about this method is that teams don’t take on too many projects at once. However, the challenge is that you need to get the previous items finished first to move to the next actions.
- Calendar It – Instead of putting the idea “in the queue” like the previous approach, you can also schedule the project. Make a commitment to getting the project done in a certain timeframe. Put the initiative in your or your team’s calendar and then follow-up to see how it went. The great part about this method is that there is a clear date for attacking the idea. The challenge with this method is that you need to put the other items that you are working on “on hold.”
- Someday/Maybe List – In his bestselling book “Getting Things Done,” David Allen talks extensively about “someday/maybe” items. David Allen tells his readers that it is ok to have ideas that you aren’t sure of how to action yet—this is part of being human. You might not be “sure” that the idea is something you or your team may need to do at all. Most of us have a lot of these projects in their personal lives such as places to travel, improvements to the house, hobbies to try, etc. In the corporate world, someday/maybe issues can easily to turn into Groundhogs if they are not handled appropriately because, by nature, these issues don’t have resolution yet. Your team should maintain a “someday/maybe” list of projects for your team or department. Schedule a time to relook at this list perhaps a couple times a year. But don’t allow the issues to be discussed repeatedly in meetings at the risk of breeding into Groundhogs.
Positions, Stances or Decisions that Need Explaining
This second group of groundhogs may be harder to see than the first group, but these groundhogs are typically everywhere especially in larger organizations.
Companies are just groups of people. Companies, like people, make decisions or take stances on topics. Unlike many of our personal decisions, in our work life, decisions often impact many people. The decisions could even impact the company long after you or the person who made the decision has left the organization.
In many cases, understanding the logic, rationale, reasons or context behind the decisions made is important for people within the company, especially those that come into the company after the person who made the decision has left. These reasons are important for preventing unnecessary rework or re-analysis.
Here are some examples of positions, stances and decisions that you may see in your own organization:
- Decision on why the company has decided to waive or enforce a requirement.
- An accounting position for the company.
- Reason why the company went forward or not forward with certain projects.
- Position as to why a company has adopted certain internal processes.
- Position as to why a company has adopted certain internal controls to support legal, compliance, regulatory or audit requirements.
So how do you prevent these decisions from turning into groundhogs?
Again, you need to document the logic, rationale, reasons and context for why the decision was made. Not documenting a stance or a position is leaving information locked in people’s heads. It is normal to find a bunch of groundhogs running around in areas where no one knows why things were done a certain way.
In my experience, especially with larger organizations or public companies, documentation to support why large decisions have been made—such as acquiring a new company, making a new investment, pursuing a new market, or changing the name of the company—can be easily found in Board Minutes and other analyses or more formal company records.
However, it is harder to find documentation for other subtler areas where the position or stance may have grown iteratively through a series of smaller decisions. These issues are more likely to turn into groundhogs.
Positions, stances or decisions can be documented through a few different methods:
- Communications – If people are unclear about a subject, it is best to send out a communication. It may be a formal communication, or it may be less formal. Communications, typically by email, are a great way to ensure that the record is documented.
- Memos – Memos with a simple conclusion “To document ABC Company’s position on XXX” are very effective at helping companies to articulate why the stance, position or decision was taken. Memos can take some time to document but they are usually well worth it. Memos can stop countless Groundhog discussions.
- Project Documents – Decisions can be documented in project documentation. Clearly articulating the position in a project log is an excellent way of tracking decisions, providing more clarity and preventing Groundhogs over the life of a project.
I have supported many clients with documenting their positions on certain topics. Documentation is powerful at stopping groundhogs. Other than stopping groundhogs, putting the logic into writing helps people to understand their positions better by working through the analysis collaboratively and working through and even challenging the logic behind decisions made.
I know that this might sound hard to take, but it is better to be “wrong” about your stance on certain topics, than to let Groundhogs breed. If your articulation or analysis has flaws including wrong assumptions, the documentation process through feedback will find these flaws. This will force you to understand the issues better. Being clear and driving your team to have a better understanding of the topic is more important than “never being wrong.” People who are worried about “never being wrong” are never really all that right either.
Squash the Groundhogs and Have a Great Day at Work!
If you have seen the movie, Bill Murray (as Phil Connors) jumps off a building, throws a plugged-in toaster into his bath, and drives his car into a moving train.
The point is: Groundhog Day is not fun. He wants out of the time loop.
The same should be true of your work life. Going to work and discussing the same topic over and over and over and over and over and over again leaves you and your team unproductive, demoralized, lethargic, unmotivated, lazy and useless. Although I have never jumped off a building after a bad meeting, I have sure been aggravated by a number of Groundhog Day meetings!
Your work day should be a new adventure and a chance to push new things forward. Don’t let groundhogs get in your way. Squash the Groundhogs, bop them on the head, and wake up to a new work day. Don’t let your work day be Groundhog day.
Have you heard or seen any Groundhogs at work? I’d love to hear more about your experience. Do you need help squashing some groundhogs through effective documentation practices? If so, Risk Oversight would love to help you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.