A week or so ago, I found myself suffering from a severe head-cold and fever, which left me feeling exhausted. I was so exhausted I wasn’t able to function normally for a few days—at its worst, I was unable to get out of bed. I spent a day drifting in and out of sleep, oscillating between sweating with a fever and feeling cold and shivering. I suspect everyone reading this will have experienced a similar illness during their lifetime—and thank goodness these things are temporary! I am pleased to say that rest, rehydration and paracetamol worked and I am now feeling so much better.
Yet I was left reflecting on how, as individuals, we treat problems and ailments quite differently to the way that organisations do. If we wake up one morning and a minor symptom has emerged, perhaps a sore-throat or headache, as individuals our first response is probably quite understated. In fact, there may be times when we deliberately do absolutely nothing. We may suspect that our symptoms are a normal fluctuation in health, and nothing to worry about—we monitor the situation, and, if the sore throat goes away in a couple of days that is just fine. If new symptoms appear, or things do not improve, then of course we’d seek professional medical help.
The Allure of the Knee-Jerk
Yet, in organisational situations, it seems that there is an all too often knee-jerk reactions to issues that occur. This almost seems to be a form of organisational hypochondria where deliberate inaction is seen as some form of weakness in leadership, and we just have to ‘be seen to be doing something’ constantly.
You can imagine a manager saying:
“Our web sales dropped? Quick, launch a project to initiate targeted discounting! Plus I’ve heard about this new CRM system… let’s buy it!”
Yet how sure are we that we know the reason for the sales dropping? And are we really confident that a new ‘targeted discounting’ scheme will actually work any better? Couldn’t it be something in the business environment that is completely outside of our control? And if so, wouldn’t we be better off finding that first? Underlying this issue is a desire for stability and predictability, which although understandable, is unlikely to prove feasible in many of the types of complex environment that today’s businesses operate within.