Should Managers Solve Problems or Change their Thinking?

Graeme Nichol

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In many management situations we find in our consulting and coaching environment we are brought in to solve particular problems. Management and their teams have tried everything they could but like our boiled frog they can’t get out of the soup. A consultant is brought in, wearing his bright red cape and carrying a magic wand. After several months’ intensive analysis and study a resolution is found. Plans are developed to implement a solution. Staff is communicated with; the involved members are trained in the new processes, policies and metrics written, a change management procedure is developed and all is being returned to normal. The solutions are implemented and the problem is over. Productivity is up, quality raised, staff is motivated, and costs are down, customers happier than ever before. Management is impressed they chose such a great consultant

STOP Rewind… Not so fast whizkid, MBA wonder boy.

How long do you think it will take for that self same problem to reappear? OK it might not be a week. You can rest assured it’s coming back within the quarter.

Taking snapshots of processes, looking at pieces of the whole and not developing an understanding of the structure of the problem in terms of the interactive systems and people’s input is not going to solve problems.

People develop a habit for doing what they think is right. Even when it starts going wrong they are not going to appreciate this. Managers will push harder, longer hours, more staff. Success , things improve, then they slump again. People get tired, new staff are not well trained and petty politics comes into play. Initial success at pushing eventually produces the opposite effects!

So the act of pushing growth actually inhibits the process! It reminds of a phrase we have in aviation. Pull back on the controls and the houses get small – keep pulling and they’ll eventually get big again. Yeah you’ll loop right over and scare yourself into diving right into the ground. Houses get real big.

So how do we change this and grow? This is where the concept of paradigms comes into play. We have to create new paradigms for the process. We have a limiting paradigm which we need to change to grow and solve our problems.

A business I know cannot grow; it gets to a half dozen clients and then loses two, if not them all. They have a mentor who has grown a successful company he tells them what to focus on, new systems, new marketing materials, training, policies and procedures. Not once does he delve into the understanding of the limiting belief structure in the business. Why would he? What does that have to do with business, he may think?

“Yeah, we know we can’t handle half a dozen clients… Every time we get that many clients something goes wrong!”

Now if only the mentor could help the business turn that around into a powerful new paradigm that motivates the business. What if they came up with a paradigm where “half a dozen clients are only the beginning…”

The understanding of problems in such simplistic linear terms will never lead to real solutions. Yes, there may be some short term results but the long term effects will still be there to bite you. Bringing in a new accountant solves some reporting issues. Not the reason the reports weren’t done in the first place. Developing a new measuring system brings in new data not a new solution.

So look at what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, what’s stopping you from doing it better? What’s stopping you from doubling your revenue? Halving your waste? Halving your staff compliment? Really? Is your first answer a real reason or a limiting belief?

It’s amazing how seemingly logical limiting factors can be found to be beliefs. Check on yours. Look at the structure of your business and what interacts with what. Then see who is involved and at what levels. If there is a problem, are you going to fix a symptom or an underlying structural issue? Are you sure?

If you can believe it; you can do it.

Graeme Nichol, principal Arcturus Advisors, ( has worked on 4 continents gaining experience through Big Six consulting companies and boutique firms. Including; Business strategy, project management, change management, systems thinking, developing learning organizations, team development, productivity and quality improvement, and large scale ERP implementations.

At Arcturus Advisors and Best year Yet ( work with business leaders and their teams to close the gap between great strategies and mediocre results. We use the Best Year Yet process to get you to focus on a shared vision and agree on how to achieve it. We get team members to value and respect the individual members and achieve results that far exceed individual contribution.


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