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Welcome to the May 2011 issue of Alignment Solutions! Here’s what’s going on:

  • Pat Lynch was interviewed recently for an article on American Express OPEN Forum about creating effective bonus programs. Click here to read the article “4 Tips for Creating an Effective Bonus Structure.”

This month’s theme is back to the drawing board. The aftermath of the recession has made it clear that the strategy and/or tactics that made organizations successful in the past are unlikely to serve them well going forward. It’s time to re-group and clean house. To be successful in that process requires that leaders take a close look at the assumptions they have been operating under to question their relevance. The fact is that assumptions have expiration dates. Leaders who continue to rely on outdated assumptions are setting their organizations up for failure unnecessarily.

The Feature Article, “Are You Enabling Organizational Insanity?,” makes the case that leaders who decline to question the continuing relevance of the assumptions that underlie their organizations are setting themselves up for failure. 

In “Reality Check: How to Stop Trying to Square a Circle,” the Business Solutions section provides six suggestions to help leaders face organizational issues realistically so they can be successful.

In the Personal Solutions section, “Reality Check: Back to the Personal Drawing Board” takes the same six suggestions provided for organizations and puts a personal spin on them to show how they work in other aspects of life.

I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com to find other articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!

Do you know someone who could benefit from the value we provide? If so, let’s create a win-win-win situation! Contact us about how we can make this happen.

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Are You Enabling Organizational Insanity?

It is impossible to “square a circle,” which makes this phrase an apt metaphor for what many organizations are trying to do now. That is, they continue to conduct business the way they’ve done it in the past in spite of the fact that the environment has changed dramatically in the last few years. Although everything about the “game” has changed – e.g., the playing field, the rules, the boundaries, the players, the equipment, the funding – many leaders act as though continuing to send in the same players and use the same playbook will result in similar or better outcomes as in years past. It won’t happen. To the contrary: doing the same thing over and over while hoping for different outcomes is a form of organizational insanity.

One reason why this insanity flourishes is that the assumptions underlying formerly successful strategy and tactics are no longer valid – i.e., they have expiration dates. Leaders take actions and make decisions based on assumptions that they or their predecessors formulated. The problem is that once made, assumptions tend to become set in concrete, never again to be reviewed. The failure to examine the bases on which programs, processes, and systems were developed and decisions were made is causing problems now, as assumptions that once served organizations well are not valid any longer.

“We’ve always done it this way” is a mantra that, if accepted as a justification to continue the status quo despite evidence to the contrary that it isn’t working, will be the death knoll of an organization. The question should be, “Why are we doing it this way?” Though some assumptions do stand the test of time, the automatic acceptance of past practices does not serve organizations well, and it needs to stop. Yet taking this step is not as simple as it sounds; there are all kinds of reasons why people don’t want to question underlying assumptions – e.g., they don’t want to rock the boat, or create work for themselves, or perhaps make someone mad, or stand out in the crowd, or look stupid, or be told they are wrong, or have to do things differently – so they don’t. Leaders who expect to achieve organizational goals while continuing to rely on assumptions that no longer are viable are delusional. And continuing such behavior will kill any chance of organizational success.

One of the indicators of outdated assumptions is a concept that I call “contextual misalignment.” That is, behaviors and things that work well in one environment or situation are dysfunctional in another. For example, in the fire service, members are trained to have a very strong task orientation because that’s what helps to keep them and the public safe during emergencies. Yet that task orientation doesn’t always serve the organization well back in the stations and offices because it doesn’t lend itself easily to taking the “big picture” point of view necessary to develop and implement a strategy for overall direction and effectiveness. The use of such a practice in both environments is an example of how insidious assumptions can be for any organization: some are such a part of the DNA of the culture that leaders don’t realize that they exist. Consequently, they are hard to identify and assess for on-going relevance.

The changes caused by the economic downturn of the last few years make now an ideal time to identify, examine, and assess the assumptions underlying your organization. Release those that no longer make sense and that serve as obstacles to success. Retaining only those assumptions that support that success will go a long way toward restoring the organization’s – and your own – sanity.

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Reality Check: How to Stop Trying to Square a Circle

The world has changed in major ways in the last few years, with important implications for organizations. Despite the resulting upheaval in virtually all major areas of life and business, many people continue to cling to the notion that things will return to “normal” if they can just weather the current storm, so they resolutely keep doing what they have been doing for years – i.e., they are trying to square a circle. Here is the truth: change is the new “normal.” This means that the things that made organizations successful in the past are unlikely to be the key to future achievements. The playing field has changed, and organizations whose leaders who fail to adjust to the new reality are engaging in a form of organizational insanity. As a result, their organizations cannot possibly be successful.

How can leaders stop trying to square a circle and face their situations realistically? In no particular order, here are six suggestions to begin that process:

  1. Realize that assumptions have expiration dates.

    Since the environment has changed, it’s safe to say that the bases on which leaders made decisions in the past have changed. This is a great time to take a close look at what your organization is doing, why it’s doing those things, and how it’s doing them.

  2. Recognize that the things that enabled the organization to be successful in the past won’t necessarily work now or in the future.

    Begin by taking a step back and defining “success” for your organization and painting a clear picture of what it looks like. Then find new, viable ways to achieve that success.

  3. Stop putting your head in the sand in the belief that ignoring reality will keep it at bay.

    Having a strategy to guide the organization is one thing; sticking tenaciously to it in the face of major change is another. Living in denial about changes that are occurring all around you does NOT make them disappear. Make sure your strategy is realistic in light of the current environment.

  4. Develop multiple contingency plans.

    Situational agility is key to success in this world of permanent “white water” conditions where the only certainty is change. In this age of global interdependence, the sources and types of change can come from anywhere. As Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, “We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto.” Look beyond the immediate environment for other points at which change may derail your organization’s success.

  5. Embed accountability processes into the organization.

    One reason why people cling stubbornly to the past even when it doesn’t serve them well any more is that there is little or no accountability for mediocre or even poor performance. When situations and environments change, there must be mechanisms in place that demand appropriate adjustments to keep the organization on track for success.

  6. Have a strategy in place and implement it.

    Although situational agility is important, there must be an overall framework that provides the boundaries within which it operates. Developing a strategy that requires leaders to articulate a clear “big picture,” identifying the measures of progress and success, and adjusting the plan as necessary puts the leaders at the helm of the organizational ship rather than leaving its fate to the vagaries of the storms that it encounters.

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Reality Check: Back to the Personal Drawing Board

The last few years have been rough for many people personally, as economic conditions have caused great upheavals in their lives. Despite these changes, there are those who cling to the fantasy that if they just stay the course, continuing to do the things that worked for them in the past, things will return to “normal.” I’ve got news for them: it’s not going to happen. The truth is that the things that made people successful in the past – in their personal lives as well as in their professional lives - are unlikely to be the key to future achievements. The world has changed, and people have a choice: adjust to the new reality or resign yourself to a life of struggle in an environment in which the rules for success have changed.

For those individuals who are willing to go back to the drawing board and identify realistically what it will take for them to succeed, here are six suggestions to begin that process:

  1. Realize that assumptions have expiration dates.

    Whether we realize it consciously or not, most of what people do is based on assumptions that we have made ourselves and/or internalized from others. At some point, most of those assumptions probably made sense; the question is whether they still do today. For example, childhood assumptions related to what we can or cannot do are especially insidious to our well-being because they can hold us back later in life. Take the time to identify the assumptions under which you operate, and assess whether they still are aligned with where you want to go. If not, replace them with those that will support your success.

  2. Recognize that the things that enabled you to be successful in the past won’t necessarily work now or in the future.

    This is a great time to seize the opportunity to take a step back and evaluate your life. What’s your definition of “success?” What will it take for you to realize it? Formulate a clear picture of what it looks like, then work backwards to identify the things that will enable you to achieve. Most likely you will find yourself discarding some beliefs and practices and adopting new ones.

  3. Get your head out of the sand: ignoring reality will NOT make it go away.

    Living in denial about changes that are occurring all around you does NOT make them disappear. Though change is scary, particularly when the environment is volatile, you have a choice: you can embrace the change proactively, or you can behave as a victim, allowing outside forces to take over and steer your life. The former course of action is much more likely to lead to success.

  4. Develop multiple contingency plans.

    Situational agility is key in this world of permanent “white water” conditions where the only certainty is change. As Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, “We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto.” Develop a Plan B – and Plans C and D – to ensure that you can stay on track to achieve your goals. 

  5. Establish accountability processes in your life.

    It’s human nature to resist change and cling to what we know, even when those things don’t serve us well any more. One effective way to remove obstacles to change is to create forms of accountability that help you examine realistically what works and what doesn’t, and to encourage you to move forward most effectively. For example, you can share your goals with a trusted and honest friend or colleague, and check in periodically to assess your progress. Make changes as necessary.

  6. Have a strategy in place and implement it.

    Create a clear “big picture” that describes what success looks like for you. Work backwards from there to determine what you need to do to achieve it. Identify measures of progress and success, and reward yourself along the way. Having this picture in place lets you know when you’re on track and when you’ve gone astray.

What’s your new reality? Taking the above steps will set you on a path to establish a process that will help you be successful in spite of the vagaries of the environment. 

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Date of Publication: May 2011
Pat@BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com
www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com | 562.985.0333
Copyright 2011 © - All rights reserved, Pat Lynch