Noise . . .

Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” blasted at 140 dB (audible noise)

A concentrated blast of a skunk’s defensive aroma. (olfactory noise)

A cluttered desk, conference room, lobby (visual noise)

These noises would reduce productivity. Clearly.

Less clear is “Organizational Noise” –  the figurative noise that is created by inefficiencies, poor communication, drama, short-fused tasking, inter-office politics – among others.  More precisely, “processes, communications, and/or practices that adversely impact a team’s ability to accomplish its mission, yet are often disguised as supportive of the mission.”

Organizational Noise is the monster that drains your energy and leaves you feeling like a puddle of goo at the end of the day.  This monster is wrecks havoc on your organization as well as your soul. 

There are two types of sounds: noise and signals. “Noise” is the sound of the crowd at a football game while “signal” is the referee’s whistle.

The volume of the signal must be greater than the volume of the noise in order to be heard. (To the acoustic engineers in the crowd, cut me a break, I’m trying to make a point.)

Signals contain information, noise does not.  Most signals begin their lives as a whisper, gently requesting your attention.  These signals will usually continue to increase in volume until they receive the attention they demand.

Successful teams identify the whispering signals.  All teams identify the screaming signals.  The difference is the volume of the team’s noise level.

Examples of the information contained in these signals:

– The small hydraulic leak that will eventually rupture – threatening human life and shutting down the power plant.

– The team’s most talented business development director is updating his resume because of his low job satisfaction has become intolerable.  

– Data indicating a previously unidentified trend in your consumers’ purchasing preferences. 

– A program or initiative is resulting in negative and unintended consequences. 

– The seedling of an idea that could transform the company . . . and change the world.

Most of these signals will eventually be heard.  Often it will be too late – the damage is done, the ship has sailed, or the harmless gnat is now a fire-breathing dragon.  Also, many of these signals are vying for your competitors’ attention as well – there will be no second place prize with this.  “The quiet bird gets the worm” . . not sure that works . . . but I trust you get the idea.

This tremendously subtle phenomena’s impact cannot be overstated yet is is often (usually) unknown or dismissed.  Further, leaders are the ones that typically contribute most to high volumes of Organizational Noise – presumably (hopefully) unwittingly.

As I’ve mentioned before, successful leaders exert their energies improving the environment to support their people.  A quiet (figuratively, and often literally) environment is supportive, comforting, and a gateway to productivity gains that dwarf the most advanced task tracker or performance metrics.

“Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom” – Francis Bacon