Four Ways to Avoid Initiative Overload

Four Ways to Avoid Initiative Overload

Several tactics can help companies avert overload when possible, or to mitigate its effects when it’s not.

  • min read


Four Ways to Avoid Initiative Overload

This article originally appeared on AMEinfo.

Whether you work at a large multinational, a midsize company, a university or a nonprofit, at some point you will face a common ailment: initiative overload.

New to the job? You’ll soon discover that several initiatives affecting your unit are already under way. Yet, every month, your boss launches another. And whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, you might sponsor a few initiatives yourself.

Suddenly, you feel like a swimmer buffeted by currents coming from several directions. You don’t have enough time to do anything well. You don’t have the capacity to absorb what you need to absorb and you are drowning in a sea of activity with little outcome.

Fortunately, the situation isn’t fatal if you learn how to manage it. Based on our work with clients in many industries and regions, my Bain colleagues and I offer four guidelines to avert overload when possible, or to mitigate its effects when it’s not.

The first is simple: Create a personal-time feedback loop. Review where you spend your time, determine the fit between time spent and your strategic priorities, and adjust your time allocation if necessary. “I’ve got a spreadsheet, it’s got a budget – my time for the year,” Steve Ballmer told The Wall Street Journal when he was CEO of Microsoft. “I give the budget allocation to my administrative assistants, they lay it all out and, then, [to] anybody who asks for time, they say, ‘Steve, this is in budget, it’s not in budget, how do you want us to handle it?’” Without such a budget, you won’t necessarily spend your time on the right initiatives. Be sure to align with your boss on the budget.

Second, carefully define your responsibilities for each initiative that passes the time-management test. Understand what the expectations are and how success will be defined and measured for both the initiative and yourself. Document this in your personal deliverables or development plan for the year. Then, figure out the resources you will need to get the work done and get senior management’s commitment to provide them. Be sure you and your team agree on allocations and can shed other responsibilities as necessary.

Third, delegate. To manage several initiatives at once, you will need your team’s strong support. The key here is to be crystal clear with your direct reports about which decisions they can make, so you deal only with those that truly require your time and attention.

One insurance company, for example, had assigned its head of HR to oversee a number of big initiatives. Yet, the company also expected her to make compensation decisions for new hires above a certain level. Because she couldn’t do everything, the insurer ended up with a hiring bottleneck. The HR executive worked with her boss and peers to reset the decision process. She established the compensation framework for senior hires and delegated individual decisions to the managers involved, giving her more time to work on her initiatives.

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Paul Rogers is the managing director of Bain & Company Middle East and Turkey. Paul has 30 years of experience with Bain and is a senior member of the company’s Organization, Consumer Products and Retail practices. He received his degree from Cambridge University and has a diploma in Corporate Finance from London Business School.


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