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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Why You Should Stop Fixing Things




Whether you try to fix a person, family, corporation or country, your attempts will most likely be in vain. The approach to fix something is fundamentally flawed. That approach operates on the premise that something is wrong. And once it’s fixed, everything will be better. One of the biggest challenges to fixing a person or situation that is considered broken is that they may defend their position as right, even if they know it is ineffective.

In the case of a company, there may be merit in wanting to extinguish a culture of silos and increase collaboration. While many enterprises are successful, they are
infested with fiefdoms. To tell the beneficiaries of these fiefdoms they are wrong for their behavior may cause them to resist a new culture. In fact, from their perspective, everything works well. They have proof. They are winning.

In an organization, if you want to transform the culture from silos to one of empowerment and collaboration, you will have to structure the business with reward systems for collaboration.  On the surface, it may appear that I am saying you have to pay people to cooperate more effectively. That too would be flawed. The real incentive to operate effectively is not predicated on superfluous remuneration. And that would be changing just to change.

Instead of changing for the sake of changing, create an environment that requires people to think and act differently. The simplest way to accomplish this is to create a big project. When John F. Kennedy declared a man on the moon, he created a project. It united everyone in the United States. When you asked the janitor sweeping the floors what they were doing, they did not say they were sweeping or cleaning. They declared their job was to help send a man to the moon. They knew that if they did not keep the premises clean, it would adversely affect the engineers, managers, astronauts, etc.

When Samsung transformed from a cheap consumer electronics company to a high-end retailer, it required every employee to think differently about customers, suppliers, distributors, management and themselves.

In both cases, there was nothing to fix in the organization or country. There was a vision that included everyone. At the same time, leadership has to create policies that reward people for contributing to the vision. This could be in the form of public recognition, training and development, listening to input and implementing where appropriate, providing resources, and knowing when to get out of the way and allowing staff and management to figure things out on their own.  

To often, companies want to change corporate culture because the organization is operating inefficiently. In most companies, status quo holds its position. Instead, create a project that stretches people beyond the normal everyday way of thinking and acting. At the same time, the project has to have a perpetual life. If it doesn’t, it will be a one hit wonder. As soon as the initiative is complete, the culture will go back to the old ways. Therefore, the first project should open the door to new, more exciting projects, like Apple’s iPad opened the door to the iPhone, iPad and more.

More importantly, leadership cannot abandon the project at the first sign of trouble or difficulty. As employees solve new and complex challenges, they grow and develop new skills and competencies. In addition, it will force them to depend on one another, especially other departments or business units. After the problem is solved, people will be smarter and have a bond that could not have existed before the difficult initiative.

With that kind of culture, leadership will be empowered to look beyond the horizon to see what new problems can be solved for customers. And that is just one way to build a thriving enterprise. 

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know. 

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