Organizational Indigestion Syndrome is the unfavorable condition that occurs when an organization tries to do too much at once.  My wife and I once enjoyed a celebratory prix fixe meal at one of the top resorts in Sedona, Arizona.  Over eight courses we were introduced to a wide variety of excellent offerings.  However at the end both of us were uncomfortably stuffed to the gills.  The dishes at the beginning were great, but towards the end the dishes started to feel like too much.  This feeling can happen at work too.

Organizational Indigestion Syndrome can result in top talent feeling burnt out and leaving, top performers becoming mediocre performers, or the potential impact of all the initiatives diluted to being a mile wide and an inch deep. “OIS” can be a major growth inhibitor.

As I explained to one leader recently, focus on one or two top strategic initiatives is an obvious remedy. In addition to that I would add these often-overlooked points:

  • Factor in “ease of implementation” for priority-setting. Don’t just look at absolute value of a project, but also look at how easy it will be to implement.  A simple change in workflow steps may not have the paper return of a new ERP system, but it is certainly easy to change and the benefits (like more efficiency) can be enjoyed now.
  • Be wary of allowing too many top performers on too many projects or committees. Often the best people in an organization are nominated to participate in projects and committees and too often the same people get requested again and again.  As Scott Adams observed through Dilbert, any top performer can become mediocre if enough work is piled on them.
  • Related to the preceding point, restrain your go-getters by using “yes, when.” Go-getters and top performers by nature have a high drive to start new initiatives.  Part of a leader’s job is to make sure these people don’t take too much on while also making sure new ideas and initiatives are still offered from top performers.  Try saying “yes, when,” as in “yes ,when we reach the next stage in a current project.”
  • Get some air in the system. Small gas engines (chain saws, blowers, outboard motors etc.) are notorious for flooding. They are hard to start because of too much gas is in the system.  The fix is to add more air by opening the throttle and pulling the cord.  At work, “more air” means some short-term wins.   Give people room to breathe by planning in obvious wins and milestones.  Thirty day wins are not too early.
  • Find a cadence to introduce change. No car can stay on the road with only max acceleration. Use other gears to slow down and navigate.
  • Avoid starting and stopping. When I was a kid at events like Thanksgiving, a close friend of the family would admonish all the children to “take what you want, but eat what you take.”  It’s still good advice for leaders to manage what is on their plate and what is on the plates of their team.

Here’s to growing fast, but growing smart.


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash