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:
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- Understanding Power, Authority, and Influence depends on familiarity with the kinds of authority found
in organizations. Here's Part II of a little catalog of authority, emphasizing informal authority.
- 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?
- Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- When we investigate what went wrong, we sometimes encounter obstacles. Interviewing witnesses and participants
doesn't always uncover the reasons why. What are these obstacles?
- Changing Blaming Cultures
- Culture change in organizations is always challenging, but changing a blaming culture presents special
difficulties. Here are three reasons why.
- The Passion-Professionalism Paradox
- Changing the direction of a group or a company requires passion and professionalism, two attributes
often in tension. Here's one possible way to resolve that tension.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.