By Uju Onwuzulike
There is a natural proclivity to always look for the easiest way out in every situation. Some organizations at one time or the other have sought for quick fix to their problems. Much to the chagrin of these organizations, the more they try to ‘quick fix’ their problems the bigger problems arise. Organizational problems are always systemic in nature and do not always appear simple as we often times assume them to be. These issues and problems in organizations are always interconnected and interrelated. In some situations, the causes of the problems are not easily seen with our ‘open’ eyes. Quick fixes and other traditional problem solving approaches are no longer adequate in this our ever changing and complex world.
It is imperative for us to understand that quick fixes are not long-lasting and are likely to fail because they are not holistic or creative enough. One might ask – why are they not holistic? They concentrate on the parts of the organization rather than on the whole. In so doing they miss the crucial interactions between the parts. They fail to recognize that optimizing the performance of one part may have consequences elsewhere that are damaging to the entire organization. Having worked and interacted with some CEOs, I have realized that most of them are not satisfied with the ‘unclassified’ quick fixes they have engaged in the time past such as: benchmarking, rightsizing, value chain analysis, continuous improvement, total quality management, process re-engineering, and customer relationship management etc. My instinct tells me that someone might be asking, how come all these measures above are quick fixes?
Let’s look at some of the measures closely. Looking at process re-engineering for instance, even the originator of the approach has admitted that process re-engineering concentrated far too much on the things that can be engineered at the expense of the people in organizations. People reacted and process re-engineering interventions failed in terms of securing overall improvement. Benchmarking encourages looking at the efficiency of the different parts of the organization separately against external comparators. It fails to see that, even if each part is optimized, the performance of the whole organization can be disastrous if the parts do not interact together well. Total quality management, for example, has done a lot to improve process design, but can be criticized for ignoring wider structural issues and the politics of organizations. At other times, even if more parts are considered, there is the danger that they are all viewed from the same perspective.
Since most problems organizations face are systemic in nature, using analytical, quick fix or piecemeal approach to resolve them will lead to chaos and failure. This also explains why some organizations end up in chaos after spending huge resources trying to fix systemic issues. The good news for organizations is that when they understand and relate Systems Thinking Approach in their organizations, they would be able to resolve all their lingering systemic issues; this is simply because Systems Thinking sees the whole or the entire organization as primary. This approach does not try to break down organizations into parts in order to understand them and intervene in them. It concentrates its attention instead at the organizational level and on ensuring that the parts are functioning and are related properly together so that they serve the purposes of the whole.
A very proactive step CEOs, leaders and managers can take when faced with the decision of whether to use quick fix or not is to first and foremost pause and explore the consequences of their strategic decisions. When this is done with a broad and open mind, we would definitely avoid problems we could have created for ourselves in the long run. And a very good way to start the journey could be to ask oneself strategic questions like:
• What will be the effects of this course of action or decision?
• Who will be affected and to what extent will they be affected?
• What is the likely effect on your customer relations, sales, and competitive position?
• What are your alternatives?
• What are the effects of these alternatives?
• Which course of action is most beneficial and least harmful to your company?
The truth about quick fixes is that in the end it creates with is called “Unintended Consequences”, as too often organizations make strategic decisions without exploring the consequences of their strategic decisions and then are surprised by the negative or unintended consequences they are faced with.
When tempted to use quick fix solutions, in addition to the above questions, organizations must always ask this systems question – what is/are the root cause(s) of the problem? Then again, identifying the root cause(s) of the problem is on one hand, the other hand lies in having a holistic solution finding approach. But remember, any approach or measure you will use in your organization that will only concentrate on the parts of the organization (e.g marketing or operation or customer service etc) as opposed to the whole (i.e. the entire organization) is not holistic and may not deliver the desired results. The desired results will be delivered when the focus is on the entire organization.
Remember quick fix in the beginning might look good as it alleviates the symptom, but in the end would not drive any meaningful transformation in the organization.
Always feel free to share your thoughts or ask your questions.