Organisations are constantly implementing new initiatives to improve the way in which they do things.
Why is it that so many of these efforts fail?
Robert Fritz describes an interesting way of analysing and showing these situations in his book Corporate tides.
He argues that the existing structure of an organisation undermines and frustrates efforts to change things.
Take, for example, a common problem in many organisations – a strained workload on people.
The solution to this problem is to add more people to help with the workload. So quite often managers will start recruiting.
Another problem is the need to maintain earnings and manage budgets.
Adding more people has an impact on budgets, and the solution to that problem is to limit hiring new people.
Limiting the number of people hired then has an impact on existing staff and their workloads.
The image above shows this, adapted from the method used by Fritz.
We have problems and associated solutions.
What is not immediately obvious to the people involved is that the solution to one problem can often make another problem worse.
This is because different managers are involved and don’t necessarily see the way everything interacts.
In large organisations, these dynamics can take years to play out.
A period of hiring by operational managers can lead to a clampdown in the following years by financial managers – leading to a constant oscillation between one bad situation and another.
We see this tension again and again in corporate situations. For example:
- Between long-term investment and the need to report short-term results.
- Between decentralised decision making and central control over the organisation.
- Between employee responsibility and managerial control
This is why change efforts based entirely on dynamic energy and good intentions can make a difference for a while, but fail in the long run.
For example, you could bring in a manager that through sheer energy and momentum creates a new way of doing things.
As soon as that driving force is removed, the organisation resumes its normal pattern of doing things – its state of equilibrium.
What is “normal” is determined by the structure that is in place.
The structure might not be immediately obvious or visible, but it has a huge impact on whether change will succeed or fail.
The implication is that if you want real change, you can’t just fiddle with an inadequate existing structure.
You first need to establish a more suitable one – and that should be the primary focus of managers in strategic leadership positions.