When an organization faces a difficult problem, its leaders face two challenges. First, they must devise a solution, and then they must communicate it to the people they lead. Sometimes, leaders focus too narrowly on the original problem, and view the communication as a secondary annoyance. Too bad for them, because a solution is a solution only if you can communicate it to the people you lead. I learned this one day from a German Shepherd named Harry.
It's a prematurely cool late August morning, and I'm doing my daily circuit around Fresh Pond. The pond is warmer than the air, and its mirrored surface steams. I come around a turn in the path and spy a lone German Shepherd — probably a mix — on the path up ahead. He's looking across the meadow anxiously, listening.
I hear a female voice from across the meadow calling, "Harry…..Harry…" Harry freezes, ears up. He takes a step toward the voice, but the meadow is fenced here, and he's stumped. It's a vinyl fence, not very high, but insurmountable for Harry. I call to him because the fence ends about 20 feet behind me, and if he sees that, he'll be able to cross the meadow to reach his master.
Harry runs the other way. I don't take it personally — he's almost panicked.
After about three bounds, he changes his mind, and runs back past me. I figure, well, he'll be OK, and I continue on my way.
Even when an elegant
solution would almost
certainly work, a
simpler fix can
be more effectiveBut then I realize that the meadow is fenced on the other side, and worse, there's a stretch of high weeds, poison ivy, marsh, and brambles that he'll have to get through. Oh well, I think, not my problem. I continue on my way.
Soon Harry appears about ten feet in front of me, in the meadow, on the other side of the fence. Now he's trying to get out, and he's even more panicked than before. I call to him, and lift the bottom of the fence for him to scoot under. He considers it.
If he accepts, he'll be able to run around the meadow and reach his master. But he doesn't understand that. To Harry, I seem to be leading in the wrong direction.
In the midst of his internal debate, his master calls again. Harry makes a decision. He turns and runs across the meadow toward his master — and the bramble patch. He halts at its edge, unsure. His master calls again. He dives into the brambles, and as he reaches the far fence, his master raises it as I did, and Harry scoots through, tail wagging furiously. His master waves to me, I wave back, and all is well again in our little universe.
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- Now We're in Chaos
- Among models of Change, the Satir Change Model has been especially useful for me. It describes how people
and systems respond to change, and handles well situations like the one that affected us all on September
- Pick-Up Sticks and the Change Game
- When we change organizational culture, we often stumble over unexpected obstacles. Sometimes the tangle
can be so frustrating that we want to start the company over again. Here are some tips for managing
large-scale cultural change.
- He's No Longer Here
- Sometimes we adopt inappropriate technologies, or we deploy unworkable processes, largely because of
the political power of their advocates, and despite widespread doubts about the wisdom of the moves.
Strangely, though, the decisions often stick long after the advocates move on. Why? And what can we
do about it?
- On Beginnings
- A new year has begun, and I'm contemplating beginnings. Beginnings can inspire, and sometimes lead to
letdown when our hopes or expectations aren't met. How can we handle beginnings more powerfully?
- When Change Is Hard: II
- When organizational change is difficult, we sometimes blame poor leadership or "resistance."
But even when we believe we have good leadership and the most cooperative populations, we can still
encounter trouble. Why is change so hard so often?
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