How to avoid major problems in your organization

One day a lily pad appeared on the surface of a pond.  The next day there were two lily pads.  On the third day there were four lily pads, on the fourth day there were eight lily pads, and so on.  The pond was completely covered with lily pads on the fiftieth day.  The question is, on what day was the pond half full of lily pads?  The answer is, of course, the forty-ninth day.
Leaders often wait too long to address problems.  They wait until it’s too late–Day 49 when the problem has become so great extraordinary measures must be taken.  We’ve all seen it happen at Blackberry, at Blockbuster, at Kodak, and many others.
In all these cases, the problem wasn’t the external market change, but how the organization responded.  I’ve seen this first hand when handling organizational crises during a Fortune 500 bankruptcy, getting a major change program back on track at a mid-market utility, completing culture change at the top of a medium size transportation company, and accelerating a strategic shift at an Inc. 500 manufacturer, and many others.
Usually the problem is fairly well-known in the organization, but doesn’t show-up on any performance metrics.  And for a number of reasons, the leader isn’t told about it until it’s too late. I am regularly asked by leaders to provide objective organizational assessments to identify such problems early so the leader can take effective action before it gets out of hand.
What early-stage problems are growing in your organization?  What are you doing to get an objective assessment of problems before Day 49?
© Bob Legge 2014  All rights reserved

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