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Is it a Who Or a What Problem?

Tim Connor

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In ‘who’ organizations the important issues all revolve around ‘who" said it, did, didn't do it or why they did it or didn't do it. In these organizations there is enough finger pointing to last a lifetime. Unfortunately in these organizations many of the challenges, problems or issues that contribute to the lack of growth, profits or overall health seem to recycle month after month and year after year. Why? Because, the real cause or contributors are seldom dealt with in an effective way. It's always about politics, agendas, CYA or a lack of personal or department responsibility.

In ‘what’ organizations, the focus is always on the problem and its causes and not who did or didn't contribute to it. These organizations tend to be more effective over the long term.
If you have recurring sales, customer, employee, financial, production or distribution problems, I'll bet you are a ‘who’ rather than a ‘what’ organization.

If you believe you are not sure which you are, just spend a few days listening to employees during meetings, casual conversations, with customers or with their managers. Resist the tendency to fix anything now - just listen and observe. I'll bet within 48 hours if you circulate enough and keep an unbiased mind open and receptive without feeling the urge to correct or influence things that you will know in no uncertain terms which is your organization's approach or philosophy.

If you are a ‘who’ organization why not try a few of the following.

-Keep asking the question why rather than who, every chance you get.

-Every time you here a who used to describe a problem or issue that seems to blaming or finger pointing ask the people why and keep them focused on the what rather than the who.

-Stop defining news as bad news or good news; treat it all as just neutral news.

-Recognized and appreciate people who stay focused in the solutions and not the people involved.

-Create a culture where any and all news no matter how negative or positive is encouraged and dealt with without retribution, excuses or the need to put your two cents in every time.

-Create a culture where ego responses to anything are not encouraged.

-Start looking purely at the issues and not the people who are responsible for them.

Obviously many of the above can't just be taken out of context. For example, if you start looking only at the issues and not the responsible parties you could send a subtle message that responsibility doesn't matter. Certainly you don't want to send this message to employees. So what's the answer?

You don't fix things in your organization with a band aid. Sure, the bleeding may stop for now, but if you don't deal with the infection, sooner or later you are either going to run out of band aids or you are going to need bigger and bigger ones every time until it's time for major surgery.

Tim Connor, CSP is an internationally renowned sales, management and leadership speaker, trainer and best selling author. Since 1981 he has given over 4000 presentations in 21 countries on a variety of sales, management, leadership and relationship topics. He is the best selling author of over 70 books including; Soft Sell, That's Life, SOLD, 81 Challenges Managers Face and Your First Year In Sales. He can be reached at , 704-895-1230 or visit his websites at or


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