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The Executives’ Achilles Heel

By Hans Norden, author of THE ROOT CAUSE: Rethink Your Approach To Solving Stubborn Enterprise-Wide Problems.

              Imagine everyone agreeing on having a confounding problem while no one admits to making any mistakes; everyone is just doing their job.

              The fact that problems like that tend to linger for years, and keep coming back regardless of your best efforts to solve them makes matters even worse. After all, failing to solve these stubborn problems expeditiously undermines a business’ capability and capacity to realize its purpose and reinforce its brand identity. Not only is that bad for business, it’s also bad for a career in the C-suite since Board members don’t look favorably upon under-performing executives.

              Additionally, people around you may say Not My Problem. And, they are correct. Without authority to initiate change, delegate authority to a change agent, and allocate resources, they’re not responsible; you are, and you’re on your own!

              If that’s not disheartening enough, let me rip off the Band-Aid. There is no cheap off-the-shelf silver-bullet one-size-fits-all quick fix tool, technology, method, skill, or best practice, not requiring any executive involvement to eliminate or at least reduce any of those unintended and unwanted effects.

              Alternatively, doing more of the same but doing it better, faster, smarter, and more efficiently will only generate the same unintended and unwanted outcomes albeit in less time and at a lower marginal cost. However, now you increased your fixed cost with the price of doing more and better of what you were doing before.

To Cut a Long Story Short

              These unintended and unwanted effects are symptomatic of a failing business system. In other words, the system’s design, organization, implementation, maintenance, and management are no longer compatible with the goals and strategy that its executive decision maker’s intend to pursue. Hence, there are two options; either change or adapt the system, or reconsider its utilization. A simple, but not so easy decision!

              The not so easy part is changing one’s level of thinking, which is the cause in a cause and effect relationship. Effects that such relationships explain or predict are the real life experiences. Therefore, if you want to realize different outcomes, you’ll have to change your level of thinking. More precisely, you will have to transcend your current knowledge—understanding of patterns among information—, and gain wisdom—understanding about principles of effectiveness that explain and predict a system’s behavior and its outcomes.

              Russell Ackoff, an American organizational theorist, said: Management [] requires knowledge as well as information, but information and knowledge are not enough. Understanding is also required. Management suffers more from lack of knowledge than it does from lack of information and more from lack of understanding than it does from lack of knowledge. Most managers suffer from information overload, not from either an overload of knowledge or understanding.

Overwhelmed by Complexity

              IBM’s 2010 report Capitalizing on Complexity revealed, not surprisingly, that a majority of leaders from around the globe is overwhelmed by complexity, which means they don’t understand how a business functions as an integrated organismic system. Moreover, who can lead a complex system, let alone change its strategic direction, without understanding at least some of the intricately interconnected relationships among its component parts and with the environment in which the system operates?

              Understanding requires another approach, a different mindset, a new perspective. Rather than thinking from knowledge or tools and technology, we need to think from our target audience’s needs in order to become Their Obvious Choice Supplier―think with the end in mind.

              This kind of reverse engineering makes us understand critical interactions with our target audience and the environment in which they take place. This level of thinking informs us about requirements for the system’s design, organization, implementation, maintenance, and management. In other words, keeping the current state of the business aligned with its desired state, thus making outcomes predictable, which reduces unnecessary friction thus making the system more effective, while increasing efficiency in the process. Doing all this cannot fail to increase bottom-line results, period.

A Hero’s Journey for Executives

              Business Mechanics―part two of The Root Cause―provides templates for understanding a business system as an organic whole. These templates facilitate painting bigger picture perspectives by following a paint-by-numbers methodology. This approach reveals critical relationships among component parts, and the principles behind them.

              CEO Effectiveness―part one of The Root Cause―explains why failing to solve unintended and unwanted effects is executives’ Achilles heel, potentially cutting their tenure short. Therefore, part one is intended to motivate executives to embrace business mechanics.

              The space in between parts one and two is bridged by the Call to Adventure, which signifies the beginning of a hero’s journey in mythological stories of human maturation. This call is accepted either voluntarily, by accident, by force, or by blundering into it. Instead, the call can be rejected, which dooms a person to making mediocre decisions in their personal and professional life. To accept or reject the call is a pivotal choice for you to make!

              The objective of a CEO’s hero journey is exposure to the humanistic or moral principles of business. After all, most if not all decisions are made on the basis of economic principles alone. Unfortunately, the single minded pursuit of contributions to bottom line results has landed many a business and leader in the news for fraud, and violations of moral principles and ethics.

              While the majority of enterprise-wide problems involves people, realize that all they want is an opportunity to do their best and enjoy pride of workmanship. Hence, employees crave hero CEO executives who are willing and capable of knitting together humanistic principles with economic ones. It’s that simple!

              Although The Root Cause explains why humanistic principles need to be combined with economic ones, it cannot understand its significance for anyone. Understanding requires a deliberate decision, a demonstration of moral fiber, a burning desire to make a difference, and in the process leave a legacy worth remembering. While the choice is yours to make, know that you’re not alone!

For a taking a peek inside The Root Cause click here.

For ordering your signed copy of The Root Cause click here.

For reading more articles by Hans Norden click here.

Hans Norden is the principal and owner of Anticipated Outcome, a boutique provider of forward-thinking change leadership services. A native of The Netherlands, he was senior in-house change management consultant for the ING Group at their international headquarters in Amsterdam before relocating to the U.S. He studied international marketing, business economics and philosophy and received his professional training at NMB Bank and Cap Gemini. He, has presented his work at many prestigious conferences and executive training seminars, including the International Deming Research Seminar (Fordham University, NY), the Rady School of Management, the School for Business Administration (University of San Diego), and the American Society for Training and Development.