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A tail wags dog story

We live in a world of solutions. Anywhere you go you find widgets, tools, and applications in all price ranges, shapes and sizes. Some appeal to us and others don’t. Whether you identify with the value proposition or not, you cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer ingenuity and creative expression of these products and services. It captures your mind and you can easily get carried away by its features and functionalities and be persuaded to draw your checkbook.

Once you take such a solution to your office you might start wondering, how am I going to use it? In other words, I have bought a nifty solution but what’s my pressing problem? Also, is this problem I experience a symptom or a root-cause? Without a clear, well defined and pressing need you cannot justify your investment; you don’t even know if your newly acquired solution is right or wrong for your particular organization, let alone what the Return on Investment is going to be?

Every vendor PREscribes his or her solution; if this is your generic problem than here’s your specific solution! We can all identify with disappointing top- and bottom line results, and employee retention. We all have that to some degree. But, how will you know this particular solution is the one you need?

  • How can you tell the difference between the symptom and the root-cause?
  • How do you recognize the nature of the problem you’re facing?
  • What purpose is your organization pursuing?
  • When will you know you’re successful?
  • How do you tell means and ends apart?
  • What’s your organizing principle?
  • How do you define success?

Without critical examination of these vital questions, you fall pray to confusing means and ends; your solution will take on a life of its own and demands that all else becomes subservient to its success. Look around and every solution is geared towards improving the efficiency of every single business unit, department, work process, computer software and individual employee. Efficiency has now become the purpose of your organization; your reason for being is being super effiicient in every move, action, thought and resource deployment.

Some people claim that the purpose of business is pure and simple; to make money. Their paradigm is that you make more money if you reduce your cost. Okay, lets run with that and push it to the extreme because that’s where you can really see what you’re saying. Lets take Bernie Madoff. His purpose was making money and he reduced his cost by never making the investments he claimed he did and therefore he didn’t incur any brokeage fees either. He must be a hero and shining example because he did exactly what you’re advocating? Wasn’t he extremely successful raking in your money in return for empty promises regarding the principal amount of your 401K investments, while using it as his discressionary income ?

What do you say? Oh, there should be guidelines or critical success factors! And, he is the rotten apple who gives everyone who’s after other peoples’ money a bad rep. Altrnatively, would it be possible that “making money” is a flawed paradigm? Then, perhaps making money should not be the purpose. Could it be something else, something that satisfies a real customer need? Suppose you’d do that better than anyone else, perhaps people would want to pay you a fair profit margin? Hmm, Money is just a universal measurement for success but it’s not what determines success! Making money is the applause for a job well done! How many organizations are worthy of your standing ovation?

Would it be helpful if I assisted you in defining the real purpose of your organization? Next, if I DEScribed organizational dynamics, showing you what makes organizations tick, would you be able to identify some root-causes of conflicts between what you want to achieve and what you’ve been achieving up until now? Once you know the problem, how much it is costing you in terms of not reaching your purpose, could you come up with an Authentic Solution™; a solution that addresses your root-cause, a solution that is aligned with your strategy and that generates synergy within existing processes?

Does the tail wag the dog? Is your success dependent on what your chosen solutions allow you to do? after all, optimizing efficiency cannot fail eroding your effectiveness in satisfying real client needs. Efficiency demands standardization, taking away all the reasons why buyers choose you over competitive offers.

Alternatively, does the dog wag its tail? Does the organization choose solutions as a means to an end for the fulfillment of its own purpose? Once you know WHAT purpose you want to achieve, you start figuring out HOW to achieve that purpose as cost efficiently as possible. Do not confuse money for the purpose of any organization simply because successful achievement of that purpose is measured in monetary equivalents.

Could business be that simple, could it? It couldn’t or perhaps it could … Would it? If I have got you thinking for yourself then I have succeeded in my purpose!

One Comment

  1. Posted December 7, 2009 at 01:57 | Permalink

    Hans, Great blog! Throughout my career, I have seen so many leaders focused on short-term metrics, the next big product or signing a big contract that I believe they forget to look at how all the pieces fit together (i.e. lost sight of the forest because of the trees). My evidence? Seeing some great people allowed to leave organizations, or worse yet, escorted out the door for short-term cost cutting. How many executives really look at symptoms then ask “Why?” five times to identify root-causes rather than just short-term metrics?

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