Initiative fatigue – is it unique to the public sector?

I worked in the public sector for a number of years in the 1980s and 1990s and, consequently, I know only too well what “initiative fatigue” is. It refers to the continual application of faddy-feeling campaigns that staff often feel are ineffective or even counter-productive. In my time in the Civil Service there seemed to be a rolling program of “what next?” Examples within the 1990s included TQM, Investors in People, Chartermark, EFQM, Customer First, M.A.D (make a difference) ideas and NVQs. These initiatives were always launched with a gusto that never really had a very convincing feel to it. Consequently once you’d been through your second or third rotation you found yourself saying “here we go again”. Hence “initiative fatigue”

On my way into the office this morning I heard the term again during a Radio 4 interview. It related to some critical comments from inspectors relating to the London Crown Prosecution Service’s fondness for initiatives or, more to the point, on spending money on initiatives with dubious measurable returns. Here’s the BBC website summary of that story. At one point in the interview it was even mentioned that new processes had been introduced to prevent the introduction of any new initiatives! The initiatives were seen to be so damaging they had banned them!

I found that quite funny

Anyway, after I’d stopped chuckling to myself it suddenly occurred to me that I had only ever heard the term “initiative fatigue” applied within the public sector (and only then in the UK). That made me wonder whether it was just me, and the term was in fact in common use in the commercial sector and I’d just not encountered it, or whether it was uniquely a “public sector thing”

So I thought I’d post it up and invite comments on the subject. I’d be really interested to hear of any examples where the term “initiative fatigue” is in use in the commercial sector, plus I’d also love to hear specific and, if possible, humourous examples of how barmy you’ve seen it get. Let’s hear it, and please, name names …


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