Who’s fault is organisational pain?

“My Distribution area is driving me insane!”  So declared Lisa, and I could see genuine anger in her eyes.  Lisa owned the company.

“You mean Teresa’s area?  What’s going on” I asked.  Teresa was Senior Manager Distribution.

“I’ve tried everything we’ve been speaking about.  I’ve asked Teresa to put together her plan for the next 18 months.  I’ve asked her to get more clear in assigning work.  I’ve asked her to make sure she’s got the capability that she needs…”  Lisa paused.

“Go on” I said.

“And she’s been in your workshops.  The one we did last year, then I know you ran a 2-day session for her and her directs so they would all understand the management practices we’re putting in here.  Everyone else got one day, but I wanted her to have the extra training.   Despite all that…”

“Despite all that…What are you seeing?”

“Well despite all that, her area has missed on delivery targets to our retail network again, I don’t know how many times this year, cost per delivery continues to rise, and I just found out today that we had a bunch of customers at one of our stores who were ready for the new range in the catalogue….but do you think that range had been delivered?”

I nodded in understanding.


I jumped as I’d assumed the question was rhetorical.

“I’m guessing no” I said quietly.  “And I also know this….you’ve got a problem”.

“You’re damn right I’ve got a problem.  It’s called Teresa.”

“Actually, you are 100% wrong.”

Lisa was about to continue, then she heard what I said.

“Wrong?  What, you’re telling me that she’s doing a great job?”  Lisa looked incredulous.

“Well, tell me this…has Teresa ever stopped trying?” I asked.

“Of course not.  As a person, I think she’s great.  And she cares about this place”.

“So your problem is not called Teresa.  It’s called Lisa.  You”.

“Me?  But I’m not the one causing our Retail area to have histrionics because my Distribution area didn’t give them the stock they were supposed to”.

“Actually….you are exactly the one who is causing this.”


“You are the one that selected Teresa.  You are the one that provides her context, that clarifies what she’s there to deliver, that integrates her work with the other areas.  You are the one that points out any gaps in performance, and agrees what she will do to close these gaps, then watches to see if she does.  And you are the one that decides whether her best effort is good enough, because if it isn’t, it’s up to you stop the damage to the organisation, to her people, to yourself, and most crucially, to her.”

Lisa looked at me, startled.  But she’d stopped talking.

“Yes…damage to her” I went on.  “Either a) she knows she’s not delivering, or b) she doesn’t but I guarantee everyone else does.  So her being in a job where her best effort won’t add the value needed….is just plain unfair.”

Lisa kept looking at me.  Then her eyes looked down.

“I’m the accountable manager” she said quietly after a long pause.   “Teresa’s lack of results is my problem.  I know you’ve been talking to me about how managers are accountable for the results of their people for a while, but I think what it really means just landed.  The problem here is me.  How can I be angry at her when this is my fault?”

“Well I’ve got good news for you” I said, upbeat.  She needed a lift.  “Two things – 1) The problem being yours means that fixing it just requires you to want to fix it and be willing to do so.  And 2) you were never really angry at Teresa.  It was yourself you’ve been angry at the whole time.”

“Why didn’t I see that?” asked Lisa.

I laughed.  “Lisa…I fix organisations.  Not people!  Now….let’s get to work on how you can stop causing the organisation pain.”


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