When I see many of the things companies do to “improve”, I often feel like I’m standing on the side of the road waving my arms shouting at a texting truck driver who is about to slam into a big pile of stalled traffic. Why?
Because when it comes to most business improvements, the things we see are but a fraction of the story. And, unfortunately, the actions we take to affect what we see, which are usually symptoms of larger dynamics, often don’t affect the organization in the ways we intend. Worse yet, they can do more harm than good. In short, we know not what we do in organizations.
I say this with considerable compassion because most managers I know work hard to do the right thing. Yet managers are typically driven by traditional management norms and methods that no longer work in today’s complex business environment. Consequently, they often end up with failed change initiatives, and don’t really understand why they failed.
For Example: Unfortunate Reorgs
Many of the reorgs I’ve witnessed in my career are good examples of this. Someone draws a new org chart that moves people into different boxes. Then they put together a PowerPoint presentation that explains the logic behind the new configuration.
Their rationale typically lists surface-level problems that the reorg will solve. I hear things like “The sales people aren’t getting along with the delivery staff. We’re going to group them all together into a set of regions. If they all report up to the same regional manager, they will be inclined to work better together.” Here’s another one. “We’re developing product differently across each of our product lines, which is inefficient, inflexible and error prone. We’re going to make all of those teams report up to the same person and put a PMO in place as our policy arm. That will solve it.” The interesting (and disturbing) thing about such logic is that it sounds quite reasonable and seems to make sense to most people. Managers walk away from the conference room table with some hope and excitement for the new structure and a somewhat cavalier notion that if it doesn’t work, we’ll just change it again next year.
What We’re Missing
So why am I concerned, and why should you be concerned? Because beneath the veil of appearing to know what we are doing lies a deeper truth that is somewhat hidden unless you know what to look for and how to look for it.
The bottom line of this deeper truth for a majority of reorgs and other “improvements” I’ve witnessed is that the real problems are not fully understood from a surface-level view. Therefore, people do things that look and sound reasonable, but don’t fix the real problems. Instead, they cause conflict, inefficiency and dysfunction, to name a few. On top of that, and often more damaging, is that the “solutions” that are put in place are usually insufficient. It’s like rebuilding the engine in your car and leaving some critical parts out. The new parts we put in may be shiny and clean, ready to do their jobs, but the engine isn’t going to run. As an old boss of mine used to say, that dog don’t hunt!
I’m not the only person in the world who sees this problem. For example, many of our HR clients with backgrounds in organizational development also feel the pain and frustration of managers “not knowing.” They tell me they make suggestions to line managers on things to think about and include in their change initiatives. They know their suggestions are important, yet the line managers often ignore them. Why does this happen? Because the line managers typically view the advice as just another opinion. Ruled by the traditional management norms and methods, line managers make the call on how to do things. In this traditional world, that is not only their right; it is their responsibility. This leaves the HR professionals frustrated with their limited influence.
Changing the Conversation
How do we change this conversation and dynamic for the good of all? That is a question that occupied me for years until I found an answer. To move out of the “one opinion vs. another” dynamic, we have to get beyond opinions into a more concrete and mutually understood view of the business. That must be a systemic view, which includes a view of the parts involved as well as a view of the dynamics among the parts. In addition, we need some kind of currency to quantify, at least qualitatively, how well the dynamics are working. As it turns out, that currency is energy. You can read a lot more about this in my upcoming book, but suffice it to say here that this systemic view with energy as the currency gets us to the more concrete and mutually understood view of the business.
This is a much deeper and more informative view than our traditional surface-level management norms afford us. Not only do we see and understand the real problems, we have deeper insights on how to fix them. In addition, we now have a much more objective way of knowing what is sufficient in our change initiatives, and what is not sufficient.
The New Conversation
With that, we can now change the dynamic of the conversation. For example, if a line manager ignores the advice of an HR professional, he or she can respond with something like, “What problems are you trying to solve with your reorg? What makes you think these are the root cause problems? What makes you think your solution, which looks incomplete and insufficient to me, will solve the problems? I want you to be successful, but it appears you are headed for trouble. Can we sit down and work through this using some new tools and approaches that will help get us to a well-designed and sufficient solution?”
An even better conversation could occur if the line manager was familiar with the new tools and approaches and partnered with the HR professional to work through the problems and solutions together. That’s the new norm I would like to see us get to in business. Until then, we know not what we do in organizations.
There is a lot more to know about the Energy Equation in business. Contact Us if you would like to be notified when Greg’s new book is available for purchase, or if you would like to start unlocking energy now.