Problem solving gets far more respect than it deserves. It keeps us busy; it entertains and distracts us. And often all it does is cause more problems.
A few weeks ago I was working with a client who was amazed that I did not rush to solve every problem I saw. Most things in life are not going the way people “want” them to; which is generally what people mistakenly call a problem. It is worth doing the work to accomplish what is really called for but the hypnosis of “first we need to solve this problem” is an undermining distraction.
Here’s what I notice. I’ve rarely seen a problem that…
…was clearly described. When asked, “What’s the problem?” most people (well over 95% in thousands of interviews) describe their favorite solution to an unidentified problem. “The problem around here is a lack of management training.” Management training is not a problem; it’s their favorite solution to something. Yet people spend millions of dollars and even more hours chasing their favorite solutions in ever more costly circles.
…couldn’t be resolved more effectively if someone wrestled with it until they had some insight that would serve them and others in the future. Maybe this “problem” doesn’t need to be “solved”. Maybe “dissolving” it would be more powerful. Get interested in working to eliminate the conditions that give rise to this “problem”.
… wasn’t a symptom of a larger set of problems that arise in different forms, over and over again. Get interested in identifying the fundamental orientation that’s missing that gives rise to the larger set and provide the development that resolves it.
…wasn’t a symptom of something deeper and more powerful that can be addressed. An opportunity that even “root cause” analysis doesn’t contemplate. If you are willing to try something other than quick fix problem solving, consider letting some issues get bad enough people get serious about resolving the area at a fundamental level rather than spending a fortune on band aids while undermining “employee engagement” with every new fix.
The real power is to communicate and act in behalf of accomplishment that fulfills what life is really calling for next. This approach – the Contegrity approach – is grounded in deep integrity and lining up with what life is calling for rather than your individual and disconnected “wants”. Working from this orientation will have you moving forward in powerful and effective ways with less busyness and more focus.
“Best Practices” are like fingernails on a blackboard. I’m physically uncomfortable when I hear people blindly promoting best practices. And we’d all be better off if it made everyone uncomfortable. There are two major difficulties with the idea of Best Practices.
Who says what’s best?
Who is the authority and by what standard does anyone say what’s “best”? Who can say what’s best: in the world; in the world for all time; for our small local organization at this point in time; in what culture? Best for what, who, when, where?
David Creelman, writing in PeopleTalk magazine says, “Outstanding companies often have unorthodox HR practices.” Best to be unorthodox? Not in all cases I’m sure. But it’s certainly not an not an argument for “same”.
In 2005, Vancouver cardiologist John Webb developed a procedure for replacing defective heart valves with a catheter rather than with open heart surgery. Best Practice in 2004 was no longer best in 2005. What will be best practice next?
Which leads us to the second issue.
We’re OK, we’re following best practices
“Betterment is a perpetual labor”, says surgeon Atul Gawande in his book, Better. In October, 2010 The Globe and Mail encourages workplaces to try out “a single new idea”; to experiment “with just one idea”.
The idea that there is a Best Practice tempts us to relax while continuing to develop is exactly what’s called for.
Best Practice? Get rid of the idea of best practices. It’s more like, best-we’ve-seen-for-us-so-far-at-this-point-in-time-and-we’re-continuing-to-experiment practices.
Here are a couple of great comments generated by my earlier post on coaching.
This is a great article that hits on some very real issues. I agree that while not everyone wants to do what it takes to change the game, there are some managers that want to change the game and may even be willing to put their ass on the line for it but don’t see a realistic way of achieving it. For example, I come across managers on a regular basis that have passion for raising the game of their direct reports, but see it only achievable as a trade-off… “I would love to have the time to be able to put my ass on the line, but I have a job to do as well.” They think that it would be easy to double someone’s effectiveness if that was ‘all’ they had to do. In these cases the challenge comes not from a lack of willingness but from a place of misunderstanding where managers do not see their primary responsibilities as ensuring the success of their direct reports. They do not live in a way where it is already their job, with their asses already on the line to have the “work” as the opportunity to engage, inspire, and light-up their direct reports. To live as, “if my staff fail, it is impossible for me to succeed” level of commitment.
This is not surprising as most managers do not and did not have “coaches” that have provided this for them. It is now time to live this understanding (and)… to make this commitment… we have just never been accountable to ourselves and others for doing our real jobs.
Interesting, but I think there are some other angles. What about the other side, the employee has to want and to be willing to commit to improve an equal degree or the manager is pushing an awful big rock uphill?
And what about employees who really are performing well, and the status quo is good for the employee and the company? Perhaps this steady state is the best thing ; the employee may find that suits them, and the company needs that role filled on a perpetual basis. It’s similar to the general business rule that if your company is not growing, it’s dying. I disagree, there are definitely situations where steady-state is the best state.
However, your description of assessments and how they happen is bang on (where I work). Its a hidden system in that the process is shrouded and secretive, and it’s unclear often how evaluations are done. Its unclear if they have any value at all . I think they don’t; I’ve never got anything out of them in the last three years.
Stop making the wrong mistakes; start making more of the right ones.
There are two types of mistakes. You think something won’t work but it will; you think something will work but it won’t.
When you think it won’t work, you are unwilling to give it a try. Worse still, won’t let others try it either. I can hear it now, “We’ve tried it before; you can’t do that around here; you’d never get anyone to agree with that; it’s a waste of time and money; people aren’t ready for that yet.” (Which ones did I miss?).
But what if you are, (Gasp!), wrong? What if it would work? What if others could make it work in a way that you don’t see? Imaging that, like WD 40, it took 40 tries to get it right but when you did it was home run?
This mistake is enormously costly. Initiative is suppressed so people just wait for what you say. You’ve missed the opportunity to develop others to keep leading things to the next level. And you sit contemplating an “employee engagement” program.
With the second type of mistake, you think that something will work, yet it won’t. This is what people are really trying to avoid. They are so worried about avoiding mistakes that they unwilling to risk small bets to see what’s possible beyond what they think.
It makes sense to avoid big bets that could cripple the organization but not trying is a failure by itself. You’re so worried about big bets that might fail that you won’t take the small bets. You inadvertently discourage people from trying things (or even suggesting trying things) and you miss the accumulated incremental improvement.
You think the risk is big bets that fail and sink the company. The real risk is the accumulated effect of suppressing people’s desire to contribute to making things better; and the missed accumulated incremental improvement. But then, you could always start an employee engagement program.
The previous post, Are you destroying enough? was about clearing out the old to make room for the new. Maybe it could have been titled, Are you protecting too much? Or, Are you protecting what no longer serves you well?
I was surprised when I started reading Peter Drucker’s, Managing the Nonprofit Organization today. Amazing coincidence of timing. Here are a few things he has to say…
“…managers have to build in review, revision and organized abandonment.”
“As you add on, you have to abandon. But you also have to think though which are the few things we can accomplish that will do the most for us, and which are the things that contribute either marginally or are no longer of great significance.”
“Where can we, with the limited resources we have – and I don’t just mean people and money, but also competence – really make a difference, really set a new standard? One sets the standard by doing something and doing it well. You create a new dimension of performance.”
“I have never seen anything being done well unless people were committed.”
“And so one asks first, what are the opportunities, the needs? Then, do they fit us? Are we likely to do a decent job? Are we competent? Do they match our strengths? Do we really believe in this?”
All this in the first 8 pages!
Next time we’ll address how to determine whether you’re making your best contribution.