Case 6: The Misplaced Conference

The Story

Helen McGuiness was the Director-General of the National Council for the Advancement of the Arts (NCAA), an organization put together in 2008 to coordinate funding and activities of some fifty-five smaller agencies from coast to coast. The Council, as well as its contributing agencies, had the mission of promoting the advancement of art and culture across Canada.

After just under a year of operations, the NCAA was ready to organize its first National Conference to be held in Montreal. Helen had delegated the project of organizing the conference to Len Carrothers, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Council in February with a projected conference date of February of the following year. Yesterday, 12 October, Helen held a belated meeting with Len to check on progress. She had been so caught up in the other issues of organizing the Council, that she had assumed that all was well with Len and his project. Len floored her with his opening: “Gee, Helen, things aren’t going very well and I think we’ll have to postpone the conference.” Since Helen had mentioned the date and agenda for the proposed conference to virtually every Chairperson of every contributing agency, she felt totally committed to going ahead.

By questioning Len, Helen found out that the project wasn’t remotely off the ground: the accommodation wasn’t reserved, the conference support systems such as food and sound equipment had not been booked and the various coordinators in the agencies were at odds on how best to conduct the conference workshops.

Helen managed to get at the cause of the problem: Len’s energies had been siphoned off by the very complex job of setting up a combined Federal-Provincial funding program to ensure the ongoing survival of the Council. He had been on the road from coast to coast ever since he had joined the NCAC. He was visibly upset by his apparent failure but Helen knew the importance of the work he had done and refused to hold him responsible for inaction on the conference.

The Intervention

Multi-tasking is the common woe of busy managers. It has been proven time and time again that tasks interrupted by others take twice as long to perform as getting them done end to end. Of course, some tasks that are interrupted don’t get completed, as with Len. Helen needs to:

  • Make a risk based decision on proceeding with the conference, i.e. do the risks to the credibility of the council of not holding the conference outweigh the risk of organizing one quickly and – due to time compression – expensively;
  • Once the decision taken, Helen must dedicate a full time resource to the organization of the conference. This may imply taking it away from Len, not because he doesn’t have the skills to do it, but because he is a victim of multi-tasking;
  • Helen must also take a hard look at her operation in terms of its Business Plan, establish the priorities of the Council and support the plan with the necessary management practices to have them come about.
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