Mixing symptoms and management problems

We continue to observe a persistent pattern in the OD manifestations in organisations. Managers and those that work for them can’t always differentiate OD symptoms vs management problems. Signs are looked at as management problems and vice versa.

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A symptom is a sign that a particular domain of management is not functioning well, but is not the problem. On the other hand, a management problem is when a specific domain of management is dysfunctional or missing altogether. Like the colours of a rainbow, symptoms and management problems at times overlap. To the naked eye, it can be difficult to separate the two

Growing up in Nakabugu village in Uganda, our mother always made the point that headache isn’t a disease per se, but a symptom of a disease. And indeed, whenever one of us complained of a headache, it more often than not turned out to be a sign of malaria or some infection in the body.

The symptom vs management problem dichotomy

Asymptomatic OD sustenance is the ideal state any organisation should aspire to have. It’s assumed that when an organisation shows no symptoms of underlying management problems, all is well. OD asymptomatic entities have attained a health OD state – bionic-balance.

The Effectiveness lab

Common OD. symptoms:

  • Process and turn-around delays. If an organisation is slow at accomplishing its outcomes, that is not a management problem but a sign of an underlying problem in the organisation’s value chain.
  • Feeling of apathy amongst the organisation’s rank and file. When the organisation’s employees are indifferent to what the organisation does, it’s time for the managers to establish what is happening below the surface
  • Customer dissatisfaction and never-ending customer complaints. Organisations commit to doing certain things for the public. The latter is the organisation’s value proposition and creation. Organisations establish a value-chain: in effect, a series of steps/processes followed to deliver value. The clientele, with certain expectations in mind, at times end up dissatisfied. Again, it’s likely that a certain management domain is not right
  • The rudderless boat disease. Organisations can appear to lack a clear sense of aim and direction. You may have come across situations where the rank and file in an organisation ask what you want from them. This is always a symptom of a particular management problem.

Common OD management problems:

  • A problem with the organisation’s architecture. Many organisations do not pay enough attention to OD design dynamics. When the structure of an organisation isn’t right, processes become dysfunctional, decision making gets impacted, and the ultimate outcomes are: decision-velocity challenges, long product/service lead times, and agility plus niftiness get sacrificed.
  • A problem with the organisation’s people management paradigm. In many organisations, people management is an accident of OD. It happens because it has to happen and no proper thinking is put in the process. We manage people like we manage our homes, friends and enemies. Normally, when you see apathy amongst the staff at an organisation, it points to a wider people management problem
  • The lack of or bad strategy. Effective organisations can be compared to the modern vehicle – it has many parts, some moving and others static. Yet, all parts have been put together in a system, to deliver a certain: amount of horse-power, comfort, etc.  The vehicle may be designed for a niche like ‘4×4′ off-road, town runner, or heavy goods carrier. Every part of a vehicles’ system has a role it plays in the vehicle meeting its niche-standard.

Effective strategy is the art of defining the vehicle, the value the vehicle brings to the buyer, and assembling all its moving and static parts, to meet the demand of the buyer. When a strategy is bad or lacking, you get symptoms like customer dissatisfaction and desertion. When customers desert a firm, its bottom-line is impacted. So, the problem is not customers deserting, but a botched organisation strategy.

  • A problem with the leadership in the organisation. There is simply too much written about leadership. And yet, leadership of organisations, including the most powerful nation-states on earth, is still a problem. Problems with bad leadership manifest via an organisation lacking direction or having direction, but continues to be mired in confusion. Symptoms of the rudderless-boat-disease are a sign that there is a leadership problem in the organisation

Now, we ought to be cautious and not present symptoms and the accompanying problems as a linear challenge. It’s not a black and white affair. Management problems and symptoms are interconnected in many different ways. For example, the strategy problem extends to the manner in which an organisation manages and organises its people. Therefore, strategy can’t be looked at in isolation of the human resource that will deliver it and how that human resource is organised.

Also, symptoms aren’t a stand-alone phenomenon. Signs of process and turn-around delay may be caused by the rudderless boat disease and not an organisation architecture problem. It may also be due to apathy amongst the organisation’s rank and file, that leads to demotivation and the loss of productivity

The solution:

The answer to getting the dynamic between symptoms and management problems right is in creating an appropriate OD regime.

OD, in full organisational development, is a deliberate process to improve and sustain the effectiveness of the organisation.

According to the Effectiveness lab OD integrates leadership, strategy, the organisational structure and people to improve efficacy in the organisation. Our experience is that the main organisational problems are generally related to the lack of or dysfunctional:

  1. Leadership
  2. Strategy
  3. Design
  4. People management

The rest can be considered symptoms. Managers are advised to address the real problems facing organisations and not symptoms.

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Categories: You, the Leader!

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