Have you ever heard of the Abilene Paradox? Oh then you should! It was written by Ed Adkins and the story goes (verbatim); ‘A family of four in Texas is sitting around, content, playing checkers.
When the father asks who wants to go to Abilene for dinner, everyone eventually agrees, even though they all know the hour long ride will be miserable and the food won’t be worth it. Upon returning from the dreaded trip, everyone begins to argue.
The wife never wanted to go but agreed because she thought the husband wanted. The daughter and her husband both agreed to go as well, yet neither wanted to go. It turns out, that the father didn’t want to either.
He only suggested it because he assumed they were all bored. And thus, you have a trip no one wanted to take, yet they all agreed to (Ed Adkins, 2009), http://mystrategicplan.com/
The basic lesson here is that not all decisions agreed upon by a team are necessarily the right ones.
That got me thinking. How often have well planned strategies, involving all stakeholders, gone wrong or simply failed to work out? Or why do some work out so perfectly? Where is the link between a well laid-out strategy and its actual implementation?
In my opinion, this is all to do with Performance Management, a theory that could be ignored in pursuit of quick implementation.
In simple terms, this is where resources, systems and employees are aligned to the strategic objectives and priorities, http://mystrategicplan.com/.../glossary/.
A good strategy or work plan would enable the planners to pinpoint the required human resource capacitydepending on the targeted output.
This is the major challenge in Rwanda, where so much has been put into aligning resources, possibly systems, but with very little on employees to ensure effectiveness and efficiency. It is a challenge with its own consequences, part of which is the Abilene Paradox.
One good example of poor performance management is where the staffing levels of an institution are not adequate enough to steer forward the strategic plan. When this is combined in some cases with low payment, then the problem becomes more complex.
Not only will you have on overloaded staff that does not perform to its maximum potential, chances are that you can only attract the second best, that don’t possess the desired qualifications or experience.
Secondly, it becomes much harder to meet targets or milestones just in time and with quality output. Thirdly, due to lack of focus on one (at the most two) activities, the area of specialization and/or expertise of the staff is limited, leading to disillusionment and lack of in-depth on what ever information this person may be required to provide at the higher levels.
As a consequence, inadequate members of staff easily succumb to the Abilene Paradox during decision making processes. Because they are not fully equipped to inform decisions, they opt to go along with those that have already been proposed.
It is also possible that where they do not have enough time to delve into details, they will agree to a decision, whether or not they totally understand, to simply get it out of the way.
The above arguments may raise the question as to whether too many cooks do not spoil the broth. Emphasis should be placed on ensuring that there is enough capacity to meet right targets and JIT (just in time) as the Japanese say.
You would want to know whether your staff are active in fulfilling their terms of reference, and are not busy involved in a little bit of everything, leading to nowhere.
A whole set of issues is dependent on this, including staff retention, staff development and overall quality of the output.
In conclusion therefore, while carrying out performance evaluations, it is important to realize at what specific point the institutional framework has in itself failed the performance of staff, and correct it likewise.
It is crucial to ensure that with a good strategic plan, comes with the right volume of resources, work facilitation and appropriate staffing.