Friday, September 29, 2006

Staying the Course 

Some crises point to operational changes that should be made. Sometimes changes are deep and require cultural shift, a behavior change. When that happens, be prepared for failure unless the leader of the business commits to a multi-year effort. It's unfortunate, but crises can emanate from organizations that ignore processes and create environments in which failure is tolerated until the media find out. When bad stories appear, there is a rush to make them go away but no real effort to fix the problem. It's too difficult to fix without relentless commitment to change. Perhaps this is why some organizations teeter on the edge of crisis constantly. They talk a good game: They are unable to play it. It's easier to pay consultants to smooth things over when the next bad thing happens.

The leader who confronts this attitude and stays the course is courageous and often unsung. It is management 101 -- blocking and tackling -- hardly stuff that gets one featured in articles or positioned for the next promotion. It is easier for the leader to ride the storm and to move on to the next job as quickly as possible. Let a successor handle it. Of course, this happens again and again until the organization crashes then changes or withers. The leader who is last in line is indicted for bad management when it was really a legacy of poor controls handed from one boss to another.

PR in these conditions can call for fundamental change, but doesn't often get it. We lack influence to argue for higher ground, so we apply band-aids or tourniquets without much hope. Like doctors with dying patients, we keep them comfortable as long as we can.

You wouldn't happen to be consulting for Duke Hospital now, would you?

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