The Great Inhibitor to Effective Development?

  • Cut your company a little slack – please

    “One of the holy tenets of competitive economics is the continuous push for increased efficiency. We question, however, whether some companies, in the pursuit of efficiency, have reduced “slack” beyond an optimal level. This is not to suggest there is anything wrong in removing unnecessary costs and tightening up processes. Rather, we question whether some level of slack is not necessary to ensure the proper innovation and responsiveness on the part of organizations.”
    D. Muzyka, Dean, University of British Columbia; L.Weiss, Professor, Georgetown University

    Have you heard this one?
    You ask the leader, “Do you believe in development?”
    The leader replies, “Absolutely”.
    You respond, “Why don’t you do more of it?”
    The leader says, “I don’t have time.”

    Not likely. Time is a highly valued resource where slack is required and yet regularly understated by organizations when launching development programs for its leaders and individual contributors. PMC research has determined that employee development has been decisively affected by the lack of ‘optimal time’ and other limited resources such as money, support, information, and space. All of which require some level of ‘slack’ to ensure effective development and sustained follow-up through coaching.

    What is slack?
    In Management Science, ‘slack’ is a mathematical variable found in linear programming (LP) that identifies the best way to maximize revenues or minimize costs. Sophisticated organizations adopt the Critical Path Method (CPM) for planning and executing these activities. They first identify the activities required to reach a goal and then seek the most beneficial path – the critical path – to get there. By definition if the path has zero ‘slack’, it is on the ‘critical path’ and therefore deemed the best solution.

    What’s the problem!
    Too many organizations seem obsessed with removing ‘slack’ from all its systems in order to stay on the critical path. Not recognizing that an optimal level of slack is essential for long-term growth is the problem.
    Slack is defined as ‘excess resources’ (or excess capacity) above the minimum needed to stay on the Critical Path. Empirical research has demonstrated the relationship of ‘excess resources’ to ‘organizational performance’ is curvilinear; meaning that too much slack has been shown to be counterproductive while not enough slack inhibits organizational effectiveness.
    (See The Multiple Dimensions of Slack: Effects on Innovation and Firm Performance, Chandler, Lucarelli, 2008). Or see ‘Lucy’s famous chocolate scene’ at
    In spite of its scientific legitimacy, the word ‘slack’ continues to be viewed by many as a derogative term – associated with ‘slacker’ – and not seen as an important and positive element in human resource management – especially in developing others or coaching. So, to avoid the negativity with the term, we’ve renamed it ‘Capacity’.

    How do you measure it?
    PMC has been measuring slack – capacity – for twenty years, asking stakeholders to evaluate the amount, and comparing the results among three critical and oftentimes disconnected perspectives: direct reports, manager, senior management. And the differences are usually significant.

    What’s optimal?
    PMC is now adding new metrics to its evaluations that not only present the real and perceived ‘capacities’ but also measure their impact on outcomes such as Communication, Engagement and Development.
    The PMC goal is to provide clients with ratios and ranges for optimal capacity based on the best and worse PMC profiles within the organization.

    Radical Rethink?
    If you’re willing to rethink your approach to development and agree that the lack of slack is inhibiting your performance, visit and contact one of PMC’s global consultants for more information.


About PMC Coaching The founder of PMC Coaching, Gilles Rochefort, B. Comm (SPAD), MBA, began with roots in sports management and moved on to multi-national business, working for many years as a management consultant/trainer for a host of Fortune 500 companies. He’s also the author of Tales from the Playing Field – a new strategy for Business Management Coaching (Woodley & Watts).