0031 522 451 128

A Simple Approach Makes It Really Difficult!

Author: Aart Pijl

Planning for change

Managers are continuously looking for methods, techniques and approaches to help them obtain changes. Who doesn’t have problems with quality, safety, result-orientation or customer focus? Almost every manager desires a different, better company culture, better cost consciousness or higher employee satisfaction.

At times, there are books, seminars and specialists that offer the one, magic solution. One manager brings it into the company, and if enough colleagues share his/her enthusiasm, a proposal gets submitted to senior management for a cultural, quality or other program. Then what? Senior management wants to reward the initiative and enthusiasm, but also wants to avoid frustration within the organization with a program that might not work. Unsuccessful, large-scale programs impede other future, large-scale actions.

Great need for simplicity

simple handwork toolsManagers are confronted with all sorts of problems. Some simply get resolved, others require more energy and then there are those that linger. These are the more difficult problems, the real challenges. If after a few attempts, the manager is still dissatisfied with the progress and a ‘ready to go’ solution comes along, it is very tempting to go for it. This allows the manager to show his/her decisiveness. The approach consists of clear steps and procedures, seems obvious and can be explained to everyone. PowerPoint presentations and professionally produced materials assist management in developing the general vision and decision-making process. When the approach received enough in-house publicity, it becomes also easy to find enough supporters.

So, why not just start?

Because the result is more important than the approach!

Simple solutions for complex problems seem attractive, but unfortunately they don’t exist

The virtual guarantees of hypes

Many simple and fast approaches for large problems can be categorized as hypes. Hypes often have a short lifespan, fit the spirit of times, are legitimized by gurus and followers, are easily applicable, always fit and appear new. Further research often shows that hypes have produced only few results mostly in very specific contexts and organizations. Of course, it could be that you did get your hands on something completely new and special, but history teaches us that good ideas are scarce.

The manager who needs to select an approach for a large-scale organizational change and doubts if it is a hype or a really good approach, should always answers these questions:

  • What is the track record of the provider? What is the track record of the approach? What are the results in similar organizations of the provider?
  • Does this really fit our organization? Is it possible? Can we do it?

Know your classics!

Of course not all models, theories, approaches or books are of a fleeing nature. Luckily, Organizational Management and Change Management also have some proven classics. The classics deal with ongoing, recurring organizational problems, such as strategy, management, leadership, change, organizational development, supply chain management, decentralization, diversification, outsourcing, etc.

The test of any classic is to check if it has weathered the last 10 years. Another characteristic is that they do not offer simple approaches for complex problems. They dig deeper into the problem’s context, look at it from different perspectives and provide a perspective on the multiple alternatives to tackle an issue. Sometimes they even raise more questions than they provide answers for.

Examples of classics are:

  • Peter Drucker on management techniques
  • Edwards Demming on quality management
  • Igor Ansoff on strategic planning
  • Henry Mintzberg on the nonsense of strategic planning
  • Peter Senge on the learning organization
  • Douglas McGregor: The Human Side of Enterprise
  • Karl Weick: The Psychology of Organizing
  • Michael Porter: Competitive Strategy
  • Edgar Schein: Organizational Culture and Leadership

Make sure you have enough knowledge about a ‘proven’ theory on a specific topic before buying a seemingly simple approach to an engrained problem.

Be responsible

Every experienced manager knows that simple approaches to complex problems don’t exist, but sometimes it is very tempting to believe them. It is like weight-loss where some diets guarantee 15 pound per week. That’s attractive to believe, because the alternative is to eat less and workout more for the rest of your life!

A company’s culture cannot be changed with a fast program.

BooksRead what the ‘classics’ are saying about it, formulate your own opinion about the organization’s specific situation and think with your colleagues about what should happen and what would help. Each situation differs and changing is like searching for answers, taking an action, checking if it works, building on what works and going on until it is done.

Every situation is unique. Get a thoroughly understanding of its specifics. Only then, apply the ‘proven’ knowledge and apply its related questions to your specific circumstances. It helps to make the organizational complexity transparent, as well as the unpredictability and randomness. Then learn to work with these newly gathered insights because that’s your data. All this is about working with people, not hard science, not physics.

Senior management can hire specialists to instruct them in the ‘classics’. They can indicate where science is right now, provide the critical insights and articulate the problems management could tackle, ie. within the framework of  their desired change.

Consultants can help in developing and designing an approach, but let them join you in your creative thinking process and searching process, instead of you joining them.

Be responsibility and refuse to accept simple solutions for complex problems.

How can we help?

Call us at 0031 522 451 128
or send an email