Have you ever heard this preamble to a management directed action plan in intended to reduce or eliminate an undesirable effect: “what we’ve planned (for you) to do isn’t perfect but….”
Qualifiers don’t make ill-prepared actions/decisions sound. What they do do is provide justification for proceeding with a course of action that is known to be not optimal. That is to say, the directed plan is clearly not what a better analysis and understanding would provide, yet management is directing everyone to execute it.
More importantly for those who created and advance the plan, once this qualifier is voiced the reasoning underlying the plan becomes un-discussable. Just try getting a logically sound explanation of the thinking underlying the plan linking the actions to the causes of the problem. Further, through the qualifier the plan’s creators eliminate all recognition of the inadequacy of the plan and absolve themselves of responsibility for its likely ineffectiveness—hence the importance of it being un-discussable.
While the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle should be the foundational framework for all such initiatives, this does not mean that any plan is a good plan with which to begin. The planning phase of the cycle requires an understanding of the system of causes producing the undesired effect. Absent of system’s thinking and statistical thinking the planners will more than likely focus on the most convenient and least associated causes to them in developing the plan. In short, in all likelihood their plan won’t require them to change. Shifting the burden is the system archetype descriptive of this phenomenon.
So often it seems that what is most important is that those in authority take action—they’ve initiated something—in response to a problem that everyone is aware of. Hence people see that leadership is decisive in doing something to solve the problem: And that’s how we mistakenly view leadership. Unfortunately such action usually produces an elegant solution to poorly defined problem. So things remain the same no matter how many change initiatives others have to carry out and endure.
Russell Ackoff described four ways problems are addressed—absolution, resolution, solution and dissolution. Absolving oneself of the problem involves ignoring it while hoping that it will just go away. Resolution involves reliance doing what has (seemingly) worked in past situations such as this—no wonder they keep resolving the same problem and getting more efficient at it. Seeking a solution to the problem involves changing the behavior of other’s whose work is proximate in time or location to the undesirable effect. The fourth, the least practiced yet most effective is dissolution. It requires understanding and then re-thinking and re-designing the system that caused the problem to eliminate the problem from occurring. This way will most likely require those in authority to change, what they think as well as the why, what and how of the things they do. It requires a change of the system and not simply a change in the system.
Similarly Deming asserted that the vast majority of problems are system caused problems and not worker caused problems—as he exclaimed the problem is not the worker it’s management! Hence the approach must employ both systems and statistical thinking.
Deming and Ackoff clearly agreed on the most effective way to address a problem, dissolution. Yet management persists in avoiding problem dissolution in favor of any of the other three ways as described by Ackoff.
This not only is evident in organizations it is also prominently displayed in most of society’s institutions. Take as illustration the plans offered for improving the education system in the U.S. or its the economic system—all reflect the same kind of thinking.
We aren’t genetically restricted to thinking and managing/leading this way. Why then do we continue in this way when there is a far more effective way?