Friday, July 18, 2008

If things aren't wrong, don't try to fix them

I suppose that it is an occupational hazard for consultants (and new senior managers too) that we want to fix things up, to improve them. Sometimes this is a very bad thing.

Some organisations face real problems and require radical action. However, most organisations rub along. Here action to improve things can in fact make them worse, unless the initial diagnostic has been properly carried out.

Then there are organisations that are in fact working well. In these cases, the desire to improve can lead to disaster by disrupting the very things that have made the organisation a success.

Part of the problem here is that organisations are quite complex animals. This can make it very difficult to understand the relationships between all the elements making up the organisation.

We live in a measurement world. Yet many of the most important elements in organisations such as its culture are "soft", not easily quantifiable. A focus just on those things that can be measured may disrupt those that cannot.

A further problem is that both managers and consultants are prone to the influence of fashion. We can see this in the way that management language changes over time. Concepts rise and then fall.

Management fashions can contain worthwhile ideas. However, too often they are not based on hard analysis but on subjective judgements. If implemented without thought, they may have adverse effects or even destroy the organisation itself.

I do not have a solution to this, beyond the need to exercise a degree of caution.

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