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"Don't Shunt De-railers into the Sidings"



The reference to de-railers in our last newsletter has clearly struck a chord with many of you judging by the various comments and questions which the item provoked.


What are De-railers?


These are not just the day to day hassles and odd things that go wrong.


De-railers are deep seated, fundamental factors that have systemic impact on a host of issues and over continuous periods of time.


De-railers are the factors responsible for ineffectiveness. They can have up to 3 times more (negative) impact than any positive factor.


There has been a lot of good research in the past 5 years or so into the de-railers that have universal potential: -


  • For any individual, manager or non-manager, executive etc (there are 20)
  • For any team, irrespective of task/function, level of seniority (there are 5)
  • For any organisation, irrespective of size, market sector etc (there are 16)
  • You don’t need to dream up your own. They are already known. Your organisation or staff may have their idiosyncrasies but they will not be that different. Of course, the picture becomes more complicated by the compounding of individual de-railers on top of organisational or team de-railers.


Given what we now know about the role and impact of de-railers, it is a wonder that they have not been studied before. They are responsible for the well known phenomenon of organisations reaching plateaux in size and for their demise; for limiting the careers of people who seemed to have potential; for in-fighting within teams and for poor inter-team working.


For decades companies have spent their time and money on trying to develop people to do effective things. What they should have been doing is spending equal if not more time stopping people doing ineffective things. As a former colleague of mine used to say “Being a good manager or leader requires slightly above average intelligence and a touch of persistence”.


Given that, why is it that nearly 60% of managers in a recent CMI survey were scored as inadequate or worse.


Chances are that their de-railers (quite common in the population at large) discounted all the positive and effective things they did.


The implications for us all are quite profound. For example at the organisational level, no OD programme can get underway successfully without indentifying the organisation de-railers and getting rid of them. No amount of “appreciative enquiry” will do this.


It highlights that teamwork is not just the combined behaviour of team members. No teamwork diagnostic is complete without a de-railer measure and analysis.


No leadership programme, no 360 worth its salt, can be taken seriously or be seen as useful without containing a measure of the personal de-railers. This is even more of an issue when you consider that so many 360s, especially those designed specifically around a set of organisational competencies, are more about measuring conformance rather than performance.


They may take a little time to shift but de-railers can be eradicated. Better that than one step forward and two steps back.




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