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Organizational Effectiveness: Working on the Wrong Problem

Whack-a-Mole by another name


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Have you ever heard the term “diaschisis?” Unless you studied the brain, I’m not sure why you would. It refers to the phenomenon in which a portion of the brain becomes dysfunctional because it’s connected to another part of the brain that’s damaged. Here’s how a physician once described it to me. If you turn on your garden hose and nothing comes out, you might assume that the end of the hose is plugged. But, as you weekend gardeners know, the problem is more likely a “kink” further upstream.

Organizations often suffer from diaschisis-like conditions. The sales team is missing its target, but the real problem is manufacturing. The finance team can’t close the books on time, but the field is late in reporting inventory. One region’s service levels suck, because senior leadership added some constricting HR policies.

Here are a few more that hit home in the C suite. Cross-functional teams aren’t making progress, because the CEO believes he has a clear strategy that’s actually vague. Turnover is unacceptably high, so wages are increased — but the culture is oppressive, so it doesn’t help. Middle management is berated for poor execution, when in fact the competition has a much better product. The dog food isn’t selling, and the CEO thinks it’s a marketing issue — but the real problem is the dogs don’t like the dog food.

Another term you might not have heard is “Occam’s razor,” which is the contraposition of diaschisis. It suggests that you look for the simplest solution first. If my car stops working, should I first rebuild the engine or ensure I’m not out of gas?

If intelligence has something to do with holding two disparate thoughts concurrently, as a leader or manager in an organization, you need to sharpen your problem-solving skills and consider both diaschisis and Occam’s razor. However, when it comes to organizational problems such as those listed above, it makes sense to do some digging.

Organizational challenges often have symptoms that don’t readily illuminate the underlying issue. By all means, make sure the hose end isn’t plugged, but you’ll likely need to look upstream to find the root cause.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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