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How Sick Is Your Organisation?

Doctor with hand on face
Image Credit: ©exopixel – #127812256

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.


Avoid Situations that Keep the Patient Sick

The challenge is, that with a lack of thinking time we risk making a knee-jerk reaction that may actually be worse than doing nothing.  These types of decisions can compound the issue, and box us in—limiting our future options and possibilities.  So often in doing so, organisations create an ill-considered ‘solution’ which compensates for the underlying problem rather than solving it. In doing so, we risk sentencing our organisations to perpetual ‘sickness’.  We end up building solutions that expect our organisation to be in its ‘sick’ state and might actually end up keeping it there.


This might sound rather abstract, so let’s take an example.  Imagine an organisation finds that customers are not receiving replies quickly enough to their queries.  We might look at implementing a ‘ticketing’ system that automatically tracks whether responses are sent quickly enough, and we might implement automatic reminders to those who are supposed to be responding.  This might, indeed, help—but it isn’t fixing the root ‘sickness’. Perhaps a better approach would be to ask why there are so many queries and why replies are taking so long. This might uncover a more complex reason (“Products are being mis-sold. If we could just sort out the sales process, we wouldn’t have all these queries!” ).  A ticketing system may still be beneficial, but the focus would change significantly.


This type of approach takes courage—it takes the courage to wait, to analyse and to consider different possible causes and options for intervention.   It requires at least a loose ‘hypothesis’ before action—except in those rare cases where snap decisions really are necessary .


Helping our stakeholders to holistically assess the situation will help us to avoid knee-jerk organisational decisions.  In doing so, we’ll help co-create better outcomes for our organisations, stakeholders and wider communities.

What are your views on the topics in this post? Do you have any tips, perspectives or anything to add?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.   Please add a comment below, and let’s keep the conversation flowing! 

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About the author:

Adrian ReedAdrian Reed is Principal Consultant at Blackmetric Business Solutions, an organisation that offers Business Analysis consulting and training solutions. Adrian is a keen advocate of the analysis profession, and is constantly looking for ways of promoting the value that good analysis can bring.

To find out more about the training and consulting services offered at Blackmetric, please visit

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2 thoughts on “How Sick Is Your Organisation?”

  1. So very true Adrian! Holistic thinking and analysis is so critical; however, a lot of companies just want to solve for a problem without considering the true root cause. Then organizations find themselves with complex bandaids on problems opposed to fixing the problem.

    1. Thanks Paula. Yes, there are so many bandaid solutions out there, aren’t there! So important that we challenge, push and help put the case for holistic thinking across. Which is why organisations need BAs 🙂

      — Adrian.

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