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Posted: August 08, 2011

Put your shoulder into it!

Adaptive versus corrective action

Todd Ordal

The afternoon of last New Year's Eve was a great ski day. Two friends and I were cycling Resolution Bowl at Copper Mountain. After our fourth or fifth lap, I stopped next to my friend, my legs like jelly, and fell into the trough of the bump I stopped on, landing on my shoulder. It hurt enough to be worrisome, but we finished the day in grand style.

A few days later, post MRI, I knew I needed surgery but wanted to get through the ski season before I fixed it. I had no pain when my hand was in the correct pole position, so it seemed like a good option and I accomplished my objective. Adaptive action versus corrective action. Six months later, I had the shoulder repaired but am still struggling through physical therapy. Because I delayed corrective action, my shoulder froze to the point that I needed help putting on a shirt.

A simple but brilliant way to look at problem solving is through a double-axis chart such as the one below. (The old book "The New Rational Manager" by Kepner and Tregoe is a great resource for this.)

Decision_making_ordal.jpg

My past problem was my shoulder injury. I decided to deal with the effect rather than the cause, taking adaptive action when I probably should've taken corrective action. (I can argue that I had a great ski season, but my wife would tell you that many household chores were put off because of my "bad" shoulder! Sorry, honey, I would like to help, but....)

I see too many problems in companies dealt with through adaptive versus corrective action. Weak players are worked around. Bad strategy is shored up through extra, resource-sucking tactics that don't work well. We increase compensation to deal with turnover when the dysfunctional culture isn't corrected.

The result? Just like my frozen shoulder, the company gets "bound up" so tightly that it cannot function as well as it should. The delay in corrective action usually results in much more painful action at a later date, sometimes major surgery!

All four problem-solving actions can be appropriate, but I see too much adaptive action when problems should be corrected. Step back and look at your systems and processes, and then ask yourself which ones were put in place as adaptive measures when you should've taken corrective action.

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Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

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Readers Respond

Thanks Liz. Most organizations would be more prosperous if they dealt with problems more quickly. I've met many leaders who wished that they would have dealt with performance problems more quickly, but not yet met one who wished that they had been slower to fire.... Todd By Todd Ordal on 2011 08 08
Todd. Great article and very true. I see this a lot when working with companies, teaching sales training. Your comment about "working around weak" players is a core reason why so many companies struggle. Stepping back and taking a look at the true injury instead of dancing around reality would require less invasive surgery. Liz By liz wendling on 2011 08 08

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