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strategy and business
 / Winter 2013 / Issue 73(originally published by Booz & Company)


Are You Your Employees’ Worst Enemy?

One of our client organizations has gone through an exercise its leaders referred to as “de-Dilberting” to eliminate as many policies as possible. Those that were deemed useful were then targeted for simplification. During the process, leaders realized that the origins of many policies could not be traced. Other policies had no mechanisms in place for ensuring compliance and no consequences for being out of compliance. In some cases, these issues reflected a lack of value, and the policy was dropped. In other cases, simple mechanisms were put in place to provide controls and measurement.

Staying out of the Trap

It can be challenging for individual leaders to get a clear picture of how they are hindering performance, especially when some of what they do is probably helping. Very few of us are pure helpers or hinderers. Asking the three guiding questions of yourself and other leaders is an important starting point. Using external facilitators to pose the questions to employee focus groups can also be particularly effective in identifying hindrance traps throughout organizations.

More broadly, organizations can administer surveys to create a map of their hindrance trap terrain. Keep it simple. Survey a comprehensive cross-section of employees at different levels in the hierarchy. Shape survey items to address strategic clarity and purpose, organizational capacity, and company policies. Design the survey to collect both scaled responses and open-ended comments, which often help in interpreting numerical responses. Look for patterns in responses that are suggestive of hindering behaviors.

In some cases, truly ineffective leaders might be flagged by the focus groups or broader surveys, and tough calls will have to be made. More likely, awareness of hindering combined with application of the straightforward approaches we have shared will yield rapid and significant benefits.

Are you willing to accept the possibility that others believe you are hampering their effectiveness? If so, you are starting an important journey toward staying out of the hindrance trap.  

Reprint No. 00222

Author Profiles:

  • Kannan Ramaswamy is the William D. Hacker Chair Professor of Management at the Thunderbird School of Global Management and the founder/CEO of Leading Worldwide, a leadership consultancy.
  • William Youngdahl is an associate professor specializing in strategy implementation and leadership development at the Thunderbird School of Global Management and the founder and CEO of a tech startup, 14falcons.
  • The authors gratefully acknowledge Robert Herbold’s assistance in shaping their thinking on this article. Herbold served as chief operating officer at Microsoft and is now managing director of the Herbold Group LLC, a consulting business focused on executive training and profitability.


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  1. Heike Bruch and Jochen I. Menges, “The Acceleration Trap,” Harvard Business Review, April 2010: Clear thinking on how leaders can get out of the way by reversing the effects of initiative overload.
  2. Ken Favaro, “We’re from Corporate and We’re Here to Help,” s+b [online only], Apr. 8, 2013: Sound prescriptions for shifting from hindering corporate governance to focus on truly helping BUs sustain profitability.
  3. Richard Rumelt, Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters (Random House, 2011): A straightforward way to think about crafting and implementing actionable strategies that overcome obstacles to success.
  4. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at:
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