retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

I don’t know if corporations are people, but in so many ways organizations behave like living organisms, changing and evolving with the times, the challenges, competition. Sometimes that change isn’t all for the good; but sometimes you have to deal with reality.

Allow me to explain. After watching Kevin’s FaceTime commentary about lessons he learned from changing barbers, I realized that MNB is uniquely able to find metaphors for business success everywhere. In my case, that goes all the way to the operating room and a lesson in business improvement thanks to a minor injury.

I developed a bone spur in my shoulder that caused me a world of pain for nearly a year. I tried all the usual treatments including ignoring it for as long as possible. But as the year went along I changed my actions to work around the problem. No longer could I lift anything with my left arm. Putting on clothes and seat belts took absurd amounts of time and effort, and going through tollbooths or parking garages where I had to reach for a ticket became an adventure.

It was a stupid strategy, but I achieved a new normal that allowed me to cope. Only it was a really diminished normal.

All that is changing. I had surgery about 10 days ago, and now I have a wound, a sling, lots of aches and pains, and a wonderful physical therapist who seems hell bent on making me cry. Yet thanks to all of this I know that someday the old normal will return and I’ll be able to put on a jacket without pain medication.

So what’s the business lesson in all of this?

Let’s think about organizations and how they evolve. All of us have worked on a team where one person or another essentially caused all of us to change behaviors. It could be blamed on incompetence, surliness, micro managing, etc. We all change behaviors to simply work around the problem person to avoid the battle of fixing them. Sometimes we adjust so much that we continue to exhibit the behavior long after the offending party has moved on.

What’s more, it isn’t limited to people. Think of the supply chain used by your company and ask yourself how many parts of it have become standardized to work around problems or to cope with legacy systems. Once again, it usually means a lesser level of performance becomes the norm, loaded with inefficiency and activities that really don’t make sense but are accepted under the guise of “that’s how we’ve always done it.”

Just as with my shoulder, a new normal evolves. Just as in my case it means coping with a less than perfect world.

Now the sad truth is that with my shoulder - or in an organization - correcting the problem is no easy task. Fixing the new normal is unquestionably every bit as painful and inconvenient as the surgery that repaired my shoulder. In most cases it costs a ton more time, money and therapy to repair. I can’t imagine there are any pain pills that would possibly lessen any of that.

But here’s the thing: I have no guarantee that going through all the pain will actually leave me fully healed. I still have a secondary injury that might require future medical attention and either way I have a 56-year-old shoulder that’s not getting younger. But I still have to try and I’m hoping that my therapy will enable me to avoid future injuries too.

The same prognosis would exist for any team or any company seeking to root out those mis-evolved new normal states that provide no benefit or reason for being. The treatment will be misery and the recovery just awful except for the prospect of widespread improvement.

Remember, ignoring the problem didn’t work for me. I doubt it’s doing any better for you too.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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