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Fix or Replace

Let’s suppose that an organization is functioning in a way that is not leading to good or desired outcomes. Things are just not working out the way we want. What to do?

This kind of dilemma can develop in families, in groups from teams to social gatherings, from corner shops to international businesses. Any time people get together with a goal or outcome in mind, there is the potential for bad or at least less than optimal outcomes. So what is the cause and, more importantly, what is the fix?

The underlying cause is usually some variety of the same issue. To understand how it happens, there are a few points that need our attention.

• Things are always organized and functioning perfectly to get the outcomes we are getting. Were we to start from scratch, wanting the outcomes we are currently experiencing, we couldn’t do better than to encourage everyone to keep up the good work, using only the resources and opportunities available to them today.

• The way people, roles, responsibilities and resources are currently arranged and distributed is optimal for the current outcomes.

• If we are satisfied with how things are working out, maintaining the status quo is definitely our best choice and needs to be our highest priority.

But what if we are not satisfied? What if the status quo is not acceptable? The answer is easy: something has got to give, things have to change.

Here’s the problem. We look at the status quo, focus on how things are working today. Our assumption is that something or someone is not functioning correctly or well enough, assume that something is screwed up or that someone is screwing up. We just need to identify the malfunction and fix it.

The good news is that this quick fix gets the job done now and then. Things get better and outcomes improve. But more often, the status quo persists and now and then, things get worse. Even so, trying to fix things or encouraging or forcing a people change is usually worth a shot. It might just work.

The bad news is that if the status quo is truly unacceptable and if the outcomes we are getting are also unacceptable, simply trying to fix whatever we think is not functioning correctly won’t work and is likely to make everything worse. This is particularly true when the problems have been persisting for quite a while. Something more is needed.

There are a couple of realities that are easily overlooked.

• Most groups and organizations have evolved over time. They weren’t just formed today to achieve today’s goals. The reality is that they were formed some time ago to achieve the goals we had at that time. Since then, the group or organization has gotten less successful at achieving those goals or, more likely, the goals themselves have changed.

• Either way, our target is to achieve today’s goals. The reality is that very few groups or organizations are configured optimally to deal with today’s goals. Were we to start from scratch, we wouldn’t configure our group or organization as it currently exists. It is also unlikely that we would use the exact same strategy that we are currently committed to using. Instead of starting with the status quo and asking how we can make it work for us, we would start with the current goal and ask what the best way is to achieve that goal.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, what we discover is that we are approaching the issue from the wrong perspective. Our natural move is to try to figure out how to enable our current group or organization to achieve today’s goal. We think that fixing it will get the job done.

A better alternative is to start with a clear understanding of today’s goal. With that in mind, we need to figure out the best way to achieve the goal, if we were to initiate the process from scratch. This step results in our knowing what the optimal strategy is and the best configuration to implement that strategy.

With the optimal strategy and configuration as our roadmap, our effort shifts from fixing things to doing whatever is necessary to transform the current group or organization into the optimal configuration needed to achieve the current goal. But how do we go about facilitating the transformation?

• Stop doing everything that is not working today, especially if those current activities are not needed in the transformed configuration. In an organization of most any size beyond a few people, there are things that have always been done and once had a valid purpose but no longer serve any legitimate purpose. Just stop doing them.

• There are current activities that partially have some legitimate purpose and can’t be abruptly stopped. Those should be temporarily continued, pending development of the transformed strategy to achieve today’s goal.

• Within the current group or organization, there are usually elements and people that can and will be part of implementing the new strategy. As quickly as possible, transfer them from the current strategy to the new strategy. Start building the transformed group or organization needed to implement the new strategy.

• It’s rather like relocating an operation to a new facility. We bring along only those elements and people needed in the new facility. We make the transition gradually but progressively. To the extent possible, we retrain and support current people, making our best effort to enable them to join us in the new facility. Many but not all will successfully make the change.

If we go back to the beginning, let’s suppose that an organization is functioning in a way that is not leading to good or desired outcomes. Things are just not working out the way we want. What to do? We transform the current group or organization into a new entity optimally configured to do today’s business today. We fundamentally dismantle the current group or organization, replacing it with an entity fully conforming to contemporary standards and values while consistently achieving today’s goals. At the bottom line, we haven’t fixed anything. We have replaced in place. The old group or organization is gone and the new entity is in place, doing what needs done today.

Now you know so there you go.