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  • Writer's pictureClemens Lutsch & Claudia Bruckschwaiger

Actionism



The greatest danger in business is not missed digitization, not "new work," the women's quota, or the shortage of skilled workers, but what is leading all these issues: Actionism.


There are 2 particular drivers of actionism:

  • Fast but messy processes are more satisfying than doing it right.

  • The surprising news - change and the fear of being left behind


"Doing" makes you feel good

The current trend, also fueled by the cumulative representation in social media, of always feeling like you've missed something or you need to get better, and get better much faster, leads to just "do" something. Once you've done something, you feel really good about it... up to the point where you realize you should have done something completely different. It's not so much the "doing" that's the problem, but rather the consequences and the aftermath. Did you perhaps listen to a side expressed a demand very loudly? Did one not listen enough to the side that was quieter? Did "acting" turn into "reacting" or even just giving in?

Especially when new ideas and project plans emerge in companies, e.g. through design thinking or innovation workshops, everyone is motivated. Not only employees, but above all decision-makers want "quick results"... often only hoping that the new approaches awill be relevant for the company. And instead of taking the somewhat slower but cleaner route of first reliably collecting data on user needs in order to strengthen the argumentation for product development, a prototype of the idea is built. Or a start is made with a partial aspect... for example software, because "that could certainly be taken over from existing systems". However, without knowing whether these systems really meet the current requirements of the users or whether they have not already been overtaken by further developments, it is not clear whether completely wrong solutions are being built. "We've always done it that way" and "we know what users want" are often an expression of old solutions to new problems. It simply feels better to have the idea out of the head and to see the first results. Thus, teams are put together too early that already cause costs that have to be justified, methods like "agile working" are misinterpreted or re-tailored to "Lean UX" in order to be able to pretend that it is a viable way to save time.

However, if you know the work that needs to be done in preparation, you know that nothing qualitative can be developed with a design sprint in advance. It is a symptom of actionism and not at all a sign of strategic planning. It gives the impression that you can compensate for a lack of frontloading through rapid cycles and continuous improvement. It can be done, but the effort to do so is about tenfold. Research and data collection to find out the real needs of the users and to efficiently develop usable products, even if it takes time before you really start implementing them, is much more resource-efficient - and therefore also cheaper. A survey, a series of interviews or focus groups with actual users, or those who are to become users, is by far not as costly as a development that comes to nothing. Looking at the competition, which has supposedly created something new and is attracting attention, leads to an almost automatic hectic rush to catch up with the competitor. But it's not about catching up with the competition at all, because the strategic path is to stand out and that means overtaking the competitor. But waiting for the data is unbearable for many - or cannot be plausibly explained to decision-makers.

And even if there is a certainty in the company that only a planned and strategic approach is appropriate, the noses of the decision-makers are still itching to do something right now. The feeling of having acted, of having initiated something, of having set something in motion can, however, also be achieved by the fact that the planning of this action is the action itself. In this way, one avoids starting an implementation that, in the worst case, contradicts the strategic plan. This touches on one of the riskiest sticking points of actionism.


Something has to change now!

Why is it that people, team leaders and managers fall into an extremely extensive, busy, resource-intensive, unfortunately unreflective and thus aimless action? As a response to surprising news, as a reaction to a problem, as a defense against a threatening development or as a countermovement to a misjudgement just identified. One "does" something. It is "reacted". We "do" it differently now. We have "understood". But unfortunately, actionism is too often accompanied only by the goal "We change this now!" and not by the question "How did it come to this?" or "What must the strategy look like to change the situation more sustainably?". Without a plan and strategy, resilient, sustainable successes do not materialize. In the worst case, the effects that led to the actionist action are amplified.

In this situation, it is not uncommon for companies to turn to consultants, who are, after all, supposed to ensure that a company plans and acts strategically instead of merely reacting. Unfortunately, however, consulting firms earn very well from the actionism of companies. Not infrequently, this is even fueled by consulting companies and people who are actually supposed to ensure through their consulting that exactly the actionistic, hectic, only focused on the short term is avoided. And why do companies become such compliable victims? It is the difference between competence for action and competence for decisions.


„Competence for action is unequal to competence for decision“

Competence for action requires certain skills and abilities in an organization, as well as a clear mandate on relevant topics and clear responsibilities in substantial work. Competence for decisions, however, does not require an organization to do everything itself, i.e., to have all the skills and abilities internally, but at least to have built up enough knowledge to be able to make informed decisions. Furthermore, an organization with decision-making authority can also estimate the consequences of decisions in a way that they can be strategically planned. Now, however, a company must decide how to act. "To act" sounds much better ... but acting without having knowledge is nothing more than actionism. And so the organization forges ahead - steadily feeling it is doing something, yet sinking deeper and deeper into the mire of an increasingly risky reality. This becomes particularly clear with topics such as transformation or innovation. Why does a company turn to trend researchers or innovation providers? Do they not trust themselves to perform this service? Do they just want to be shown a suitcase full of ideas from which they can choose what suits their company? Viewing the innovation supplier as the messiah for missed opportunities or a lack of innovation management is currently a typical picture of actionism in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. It is better to have experts accompany and empower companies to develop and exploit innovation potential - because only this approach is sustainable and dynamic at the same time.


Actionism is therefore countered by needs oriented action, not only in the implementation of products and services, but above all in strategy. In blind actionism, the need is ostensibly the action itself. Discipline and reflection force strategic action.




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