The real work is (often) not about the system

My work with my clients who have built their own businesses often looks like org design and work systems.

But that’s just the surface.

Someone who is talented and entrepreneurial enough to build a business from their own kitchen table to being able to cover the lease agreement for offices that house 30+ staff has no trouble understanding the work.

That’s not the issue, and heading to another seminar, or listening to someone like me describe what has to happen is not going help.  It’s the equivalent of reading more recipe books as a method to get some food on the table.

The challenge is to see this work as the business priority.  And there are multiple signals available that can be used as a way to put this work off until later.  Cash flow is a great one, and might even be the case.  Organising a group of people to do great work is definitely no longer an issue if we can’t make payroll.  Pressing needs of what we might call ‘pillar’ clients is another.

What we have here is the business equivalent of not stopping to exercise and taking the extra time to prepare healthy meals.  And as we know, many of us will continue down this path until a genuine medical scare happens.  Hopefully, it will be in the category of wake-up call, and not no-more-wake-up call, and this is what it takes.

The business equivalent might be losing one of those pillar clients as the volume and sub-optimal organisation finally sees quality drop below the ability to apologise and put in a big effort to rectify.  It might be a staff member who would never leave, one being groomed for ownership who was in the inner sanctum deciding that this pasture is definitely no longer green.  And, worst of all, it might be that genuine medical scare actually happening.

So what gets us out of this?  I have found the most powerful decision is for those involved to declare “the business works like it does because I like it that way”.  As Bob Marshall, aka flowchainsensei points out here – things are the way they are because those who have the power to change things needs are getting met.  This is not a provable thing, it’s a decision.

The power in making this decision is that is gives us back AGENCY.  If the business is the way it is because that’s the way (a-ha, a-ha) I like it, then we can choose to not like it anymore.  

And how do we know this?  Because people who are talented enough to build it are talented enough to follow even marginally useful advice of a technical nature.  So it must be something else.

What’s the solution here?  Sometimes this goes beyond where I can help – into personal therapy.  I am hard core about not playing in this space.  My wife works in this area, and I stick by her mantra of “you don’t open doors that you might not be able to help them close”.   I often play a role in putting on the table what I see as what’s really going on. If it’s needed, I might suggest some deeper looking into why we keep coming here…with a professional in that area.  (I was once asked in a similar situation “perhaps what you’re really afraid of is being successful”.  That got my attention!) 

Other times, I can help by forcing some calendar appointments and holding up mirrors as to what I experience when those appointments are changed, continually pointing out that the actions of “we want to do this” are not reflected in the actual schedule of the day.  Or perhaps spending some time looking into the next 6 months to figure out what can NOT be done to create the space to work on this business.

Either way, the trick is to recognise the real work.  

It’s not always technical.  In fact…is it ever?  🙂

( Quick end note: That ‘technical’ work is recognising that the business is in the Adizes stage of Adolescence, then putting in what I call ‘just enough’ formal org design and work systems so it can move to what Adizes calls Prime.  It creates a move from what Hoebeke, Stamp, and/or Jaques describe as ‘Level 2′ to ‘Level 3’. The way to do this?  By getting the full system in the room – that is, all the people who are touched by the work system, establishing the current reality, then putting in place a small group of ‘not dumb’ experiments to see what works best for that particular situation)

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