Tuesday, October 21, 2014


There is this old story of a British couple touring the Wicklow mountains somewhere in the fifties. They have lost their way, they don’t find any road sign and everything is deserted. The sun is already low when they finally meet an old local farmer. They ask him for the road to Dublin.
He screws up his eyes, looks one way, then another, then a third, and finally answers: If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here.

The second  systemic disease of organizations we pictured by:
People argue in a jeep on a rock plateau, blaming each other. They are stranded. How to proceed? In which direction to go? Or better wait and see?

Why do organizations lose their way till they are even no longer sure where they are? They even don’t know in which direction to go. The simplest explanation is incompetence. But why is incompetence unnoticed or, worse, accepted?
A situation in which people bicker and there is no way to find out how to proceed can come about by four different circumstances:
  • A good map is lacking.
  • It is not clear where they are on the map.
  • They have ventured from the beaten track and are caught unprepared.
  • They have no idea where they are heading.
As the saying goes: they drove off the map. It may look like a bold move, but it is just plain careless or stupid. Or both. Lack of direction means not knowing where you are, or not knowing where you want to go. You may even not know how to turn around. Lack of a map means in an organization not knowing the external situation: who the clients are, how they are doing, what they need and want. Or what the competition is doing. Sometimes the situation is worse: not knowing the internal situation. Why are good workers leaving? Why are people demotivated? Where is the money going? That last question is less likely in a business, but not unlikely in a public institution.

In a company, the usual solution is a forceful outside intervention, changing one or more executives, introducing new discipline, reorganization, etc. In an institution the solution is usually the same, but usually much later and more difficult. When everyone is blaming everyone else and everyone is making different suggestions, the discussion has to be forcefully stopped before it can be resumed more profitably.

But once a situation had degraded so much, the rot may be deeper. After new goals and new direction by a new leadership, after a few months or at most a few years, the old situations may recreate itself.
Real success comes from the soul and the marketplace simultaneously (Tom Peters). The first option is that the ultimate clients have to be brought in immediate, dramatic, shocking contact with the people directing and the people doing the work. Or people have to brought to the coal face, like it or not. If you are responsible for sewers, you have to go to an open sewer and see and hear and smell what is going on there.
The second option that the purpose is found or re-found. What is it all about?
In organizational constellations that get stuck, the solution is often either to introduce and rediscover the ultimate customer, or to introduce and rediscover the lost purpose of the organization. Public institutions easily suffer from mission creep.
The third option is to find the zombies: the sometimes surprisingly small number of people who are so demotivated and so unperceptive, who have so low energy, that they drain everyone around them and lower the awareness, the goodwill and the practical intelligence of the people around them.
Zombie organizations produce zombies and zombies produce zombie organizations. In  the situation we explore here, this is not noticeable. People seem reasonably active and happy, though rather unimaginative, unperceptive and uncreative, till the whole work comes to a halt, rather suddenly. Where is the thunderstorm when you need one? Do zombies turn back into humans when they are struck by lightning?
If you have found a lightning that unzombies people, let me know. We could start a booming business. Unless the zombies run the show.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog in every way! Clearly something companies and organisations should hire you for. ...or the one who finds the lightning...