Lesson #1. Different organizations have the same problems


Here’s a nearly fool proof exercise you can do:  Walk into a company, any company with more than 10 people.  Put your hand to your head and make a face like you’re concentrating very, very hard.  After an appropriate time period, maybe 5-10 seconds, say that you have just telepathically experienced the company’s main challenges and can now provide a status update.

Assuming that you’ve not been thrown out of the building for acting so weird, go on to make these points:

  • Many people in your organization are unhappy with all the changes – and they grumble that it is not the company it was when they started (regardless of when they started)
  • Your people do not handle conflict well – they prefer to avoid it rather than address it directly,
  • You feel that your organization-wide communications are too slow and many employees complain that they do not get important information they need in a timely manner
  • …yet attempts to hold regular information update meetings are poorly attended
  • You’re unhappy with how performance evaluations are done
  • You don’t go a good job of dealing with low performers and don’t hold people accountable,
  • Senior managers need to be more visible
  • Most people do not like your health care coverage
  • You have too many meetings
  • You have your values posted, but many people feel that key individuals don’t practice them and there are no consequences for failing to do so

If your assessment of the organization is off, it’ll only be by a little bit.  Depending on the company, you may be treated like an all knowing Deity, a clairvoyant consultant or an evil shaman….and if you really try this, at this point you’re on your own; I have no more advice about what to do next…but good luck and let me know how it turns out.

Here’s the point of that little thought exercise…

Most organizations today are in a constant and unending–that’s a key point–battle, to get these things right…and if you have human beings working at your company, you’re probably unsatisfied with the current state of these areas.

Despite the fact that I won many consulting jobs by saying how unique your company is…. “When you’ve seen one you’ve seen one” I’d say, I knew that it would not be good business to point out how similar most organizations really tend to be.  And that’s not a bad thing, because if a company is doing relatively well, it probably is dealing with many of the same challenges that other healthy companies are facing.  If they are doing very poorly they are consumed with survival issues like generating revenues, meeting their commitments and paying their employees…and they don’t have the luxury of working on these “higher level” system or process issues.  It’s very similar to Maslow’s hierarchy, but applied to the survival of organizations rather than individual survival…if you’ve got the basic survival issues under control, you’re going to start dealing with “relatedness” issues – and for the most part, that’s really what those are.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Leo Tolstoy, in Anna Karenina

I don’t speak Russian, I’ve never read that book, and wouldn’t know Leo Tolstoy from Leo the lion or Leo Scully, but isn’t that a great quote at this point?

Unhealthy organization can do a million different and often bone-headed things to avoid success, but reasonably happy (healthy) companies follow the same basic steps to assure the systematic ongoing  delivery of products and services that generate regular revenues streams, and then must deal with those higher order challenges—the ones you the Clairvoyant Consultant listed above.

BUT- Because these are common challenges does not mean that you can accept them – in fact, just the opposite is true – it means you need to recognize them and deal with them constantly.  Remember is said “unending” was key – well it is….these are things you never “finish” or completely achieve.  Because of that it is critical that if your organization has these problems don’t assume the person, or persons or departments in charge of them are total buffoons.  Rather recognize that these are omnipresent ongoing challenges in relatively healthy organizations that will never be completely resolved—and keep them on your radar as things we need to continue to address.  Think of it as a permanent rotating to do list.  You will never finish these tasks so consistently monitor them and find new ways to address them.

What can you do?  Well some of these will be fodder for later Truths….but know that truth #1 is ”All organizations have the same problems”.

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