Leadership Follies: The Art of Management by Shiny Objects

Very Shiny Object

One of the biggest issues that face many leaders today is the lack of clarity in the direction of their teams and organizations.

This is most evident directly after a big change.

It is not that team members are not well-meaning or that they don’t try to do the right thing, it is that they suffer from something called the “follow the shiny object” syndrome.

Shiny Object Syndrome

I Love Shiny Object

This is not a new syndrome, it is one that is pervasive across the globe. It begins when we are children and are shown a shiny object. This shiny thing gets our attention and takes our concentration away from whatever it was that we are occupied with previously.

It takes effort and practice to not be swayed by the shiny object.

Unfortunately for most of us, we fail at this task miserably.

Causing Panic

This is no more evident than a recent client project I was working on. After a very large and comprehensive change to the organization, the first sign that the change was “not taking” caused a panic.

The group was distracted by a meaningless item of shiny proportions that temporarily distracted their focus of attention. It was not even a real business driver; just grumbling from folks that had a hard time with the change underway. As one can imagine, this “shiny object” put my client and their “minions” into a panic and put them scurrying into action.

They began surveying, interviewing, and doing all sorts of data-gathering to determine how well the “change” was going and if the “change” was successful.

Unfortunately, it was so close to the actual implementation of the change-project  that the data we collected was inconclusive. Their well-meaning action started to make me think about what it is about the “shiny object” that has us be so intrigued about it.

Defining the Distraction

In organizations, “shiny objects” are defined as projects or requests or initiatives that take a team or large group of people away from  a critical task. Usually, it is an action that has little up side and sometimes can be detrimental.

3 Reasons

There are really 3 main reasons why new “shiny objects” take our focus away from change initiatives (which might be considered the “original shiny object”)

1. If people cannot tell what the shiny object is they are working toward, they will go after a new one

There is not a clear definition or picture of what success looks like once the change or project or task is complete. We don’t know or don’t have an idea of what the end will look like or feel like.  Therefore, we can’t adequately describe it.

People are left with either making up their own idea of what the end will look like or being left in “the unknown”. It makes people uncomfortable and has them make up things about the change or the project or the task that makes them uncomfortable.

2. Sometimes, things are not shiny enough The reason for the change was not made clear or is not compelling.

A fundamental of change management is convincing people that change is paramount to the success of the organization.  Oftentimes, it’s the result of showing people how bad it’ll get if there is no change. If there is no compelling reason for the change or that reason is not convincing.

People will be left thinking that it is easier to keep doing what they’re doing or what they were doing before the change…even if that wasn’t working.

3. Too many other shiny objectsThere is a lack of clarity within the organization’s hierarchy about the change and its impact.

One of the places that change falls down in many organizations is the all-important communication post change. There is always energy (and sometimes enthusiasm) about the change as it is approaching and even once the change has happened.

It’s a little bit like an afterglow.

But if there is not a clear path to follow and communication about what people should expect they get stuck in the “messy middle”.   It’s imperative that no matter the work effort leading up to the change

  • There is constant and regular communication about the change and its impact with the senior leadership team.
  • There must be a cascading communication plan that hits every employee so that they know what they’re experiencing is normal.
  • Coupled with training or other tools that help gain the skills necessary to be successful.

Real Life Relationships

Organizations, managers, leaders, employees and shareholders have been conditioned to follow the “shiny object” of the quarterly stock report. They have all been conditioned to focus on the shiny object as important.  Making  it almost impossible to think about long-term success or planning.

Therefore, it is critical for change to be successful that the post-change has as much or more concentration than the implementation of the change itself.

Sometimes this makes me think about when I first got married. My beautiful wife was, and is, the most important thing that I have in my life. I pursued her with a single purpose in mind.

And once we were husband and wife, life’s issues began to get in the way.

As with most newlywed couples, we began to see that if we didn’t pay attention to this big change, our harmonious marriage would be difficult and we probably would face many unnecessary trials. So, with this in mind, we made a concerted effort to spend as much time working on our new relationship as we did trying to get in to it. Thankfully, that worked!

Relationships at Work

It is important that we make sure to not manage using the shiny object methodology. It wears people out and tends to make them feel like whatever they’re working on is not important because it’s probably going to change. It gives them little investment in their current project and reduces their ability to feel a sense of completion.

So, what are you going to do to stop running after the shiny object? How are you going to master the elements of focus that really beckon your attention? How are you going to be a master of your domain? I would love to hear your story!


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Anil Saxena
is a Senior Consultant and Business Partner with Coffman Organization

He helps organizations create environments that generate repeatable superior results
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog | (888) 999-0940 x-730

Image Sources:  www-personal.umich.edu

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3 responses to “Leadership Follies: The Art of Management by Shiny Objects

  1. Pingback: Change is Messy…..Your Business Is Not A Project·

  2. If people are “naturally” drawn to shiny objects, why not make the end results of change as clear and shiny as possible? – but sure people know the prize as well as the price.


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