“Nothing is gained by teaching a parrot a new word.” — George Orwell
Is your organization performing as well as it should? As it could?
Do you know? Can you know?
Random notions on the subject:
Notion #1: If you’re confident your organization is performing as well as it could, you’re right by definition. Neither you nor anyone reporting to you will try to improve it because why would you?
If, on the other hand, you’re confident it could be better and you’re wrong, you might do some damage, because if your organization is already doing as well as possible, the best any change can achieve is neutrality. That’s the best outcome. The rest must leave you worse off than where you started.
Notion #2: Benchmarks were popular because an executive could use them to “prove” a recalcitrant manager wasn’t performing as well as possible. They were flawed because they rarely avoided the sin of apples-to-basket-of-randomly-assembled-fruit comparisons.
“Best practices” have replaced them as the flogging tool of choice for those whose closest level of descent is 50,000 feet (15,240 meters if you’ve adopted altitude-measurement best practices).
Best practices are popular because what they prescribe rarely matches how we do things around here. Which means the manager responsible for following less-than-best practices surely deserves a whuppin’.
True story: I once saw a consultant’s PowerPoint slide that promised to “… institute best practices followed by a program of continuous improvement.”
Ahem. If the practices are best they can’t be improved. If they can be improved, continuously or otherwise, they aren’t best yet.
As the KJR Manifesto pointed out there are no best practices, only practices that fit best. Most so-called best practices are one-size-fits-no-one off-the-rack pants. They’re too small for your waist and too short for your inseam, but your boss insists you wear them anyway.
Notion #3: Fixing the root cause isn’t always the best way to deal with a problem.
Imagine, for example, that you, like me, suffer from cluster headaches. Your research determines the root cause is spontaneous activation of nociceptive pathways.
So what. We can’t do anything about the root cause. I don’t even know what the root cause means.
What we can do is take Sumatriptan as soon as a headache starts and wait 15 minutes or so for it to take effect.
Sometimes, suppressing symptoms is the best alternative. Not a good alternative, mind you, but the best one available.
Notion #4: A common and pernicious barrier to organizational change is the Assumption of the Present. It’s the Assumption of the Present when employees are sure a proposed change will fail because otherwise it would have already happened.
The Assumption of the Present is a close cousin of “We tried that and it didn’t work,” only you can suggest the reason it didn’t work is that, “Maybe we did it wrong.”
The Assumption of the Present, in contrast, is circular. And being circular there’s no entry point you can use to rebut it.
Notion #5: Agile isn’t a methodology. It isn’t a family of methodologies. Well, it is, but more importantly it’s a way of thinking about how to accomplish things.
It’s the practical application of Gall’s Law: A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system.”
What it means to you: If you want to try to improve how your organization functions and don’t want to risk doing more harm than good, figure out ways to improve it one small increment at a time. As you do, consider that each increment should be:
- Easy to explain: If it’s complicated it isn’t incremental.
- Easy to integrate: The increment shouldn’t disrupt how the rest of the work gets done, or at least it shouldn’t disrupt it badly.
- Contained: Its scope should be limited to your organization. Processes have inputs, outputs, and methods. Incremental changes should focus on methods, unless a source of your inputs or consumer of your outputs wants to collaborate.
- Non-limiting: To the extent you can tell, implementing the increment shouldn’t close off potentially desirable future changes.
- Reversible: If it doesn’t work out, you should be able to stop doing it without difficulty.
Last Notion: Some managers are good at operations — at keeping the joint running. Others are good at making change happen — at making tomorrow look different from yesterday.
Neither skill is good enough by itself.
Managers who excel at operations but can’t make change happen will lead a long, slow slide into obsolescence. But those who excel at change without being competent at operations have the opposite problem.
They won’t survive until the future gets here.