Your Company's Worst Habits, And How To Fix Them

That great idea from 2007 is now just an obsolete wrench in the works--so why are you still using it? Every company needs to trim the fat; here's how to get the ball rolling.

As a business leader, one of the things I always marvel at is how much crap creeps into a business operation over time. Processes go out of date (and become void of any usefulness) yet they remain as habits.

New chaotic and reactive activities crop up in lieu of sensible processes or infrastructure, misunderstandings cause stalls, re-work, and duplication, and silos block useful communication--and this is when everyone is generally motivated to get along. Misaligned, politicized organizations have a whole raft of additional obstacles that block growth.

Habit is a very powerful force that makes organizations get stuck doing things the same way over and over again. Habits become ingrained (good and bad ones). And then everyone gets too over-busy to think about how there might be a better way to do something. One of most useful things I repeatedly did in my career was to step outside of the current business’s tendencies and really observe, question, and then improve them.

Here are 3 of my favorite approaches:

1. Be the new guy

When you start a new job, you need to first figure out what is going on. You’re the new guy. So you need to observe and learn. You ask a lot of questions and you do an assessment. You consider what is working and not working, and you identify stuff that is missing or broken. Why not pretend to be the new guy in your current job?

If you came in with a fresh perspective and looked at your organization’s structure priorities, processes, and habits--without any familiarity or fondness for any of them--which ones would genuinely impress you? And which ones would embarrass you, and make you think, “man, that needs to change?”

2. What stupid stuff are we doing?

I used to have a staff meeting about once a year where the key topic was “let’s talk about what stupid stuff we are doing.” This was always a fun and fruitful discussion, where people got permission to look outside their current pressures and demands. We could all step back and consider ways to improve how we did business.

I highly recommend doing this.

Most times I’ve done this the group naturally moved from listing bad habits to solving them.

If your team gets into a negative, non-productive, complaining, downward spiral just say, “okay, now let’s decide which one we want to change, and what to do.”

Defining a desired outcome and an action plan to improve something gets you back on highly positive ground--and you fix something important.

I recommend doing this as an open discussion--no PowerPoints! You’ll get a better discussion and more insight if you let your group really talk. I do this with management teams regularly, and we always leave with a concrete action plan to remove obstacles for growth--things that are driving everyone crazy anyway.

3. In a parallel universe…

There were times when things got really bad--for me.

I was stressed, frustrated, and felt like the corporate bureaucracy, or a particular adversary, was blocking me from doing the right things…My back is up against a wall, nothing seems to be working, the pressure is mounting, the support I thought I had has disappeared, people are angry, the mission seems generally impossible, I am miserable, and I am stuck.

When I would find myself in this situation, I did what I refer to as my “parallel universe” thought exercise.

I imagine that a parallel universe exists which replicates the same situation exactly…

All the same pressures are there. Everything about the situation is exactly the same--except there is a version of me in that universe who is more capable and better than me in every way--smarter, faster thinker, better problem solver, better negotiator, better communicator, better networker, and with better hair. I then ask myself, what would that person do?

This has never failed to help me come up with an idea to get un-stuck, feel less victimized, and start moving forward.

The Patty-with-the-better-hair always had more energy to keep fighting, and a new angle to try. At the very least she would remind me to go find some help and stop suffering along. What would a better version of me do? It’s a useful and mobilizing question!

--Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker, and business advisor to CEOs. You can find her at AzzarelloGroup.com or follow her on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Daniel Ansel Tingcungco]

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2 Comments

  • Ara ohanian

    Patty – you’re so right that as organizations grow they can become sclerotic. I love your three approaches, particularly the honesty of your third one listed. One thing I would add: keep it small. As a leader of a successful international technology company I have also found that giving people the power to make decisions themselves is the best way of keeping our operations smart.