Twenty years ago scientists became aware of mysterious movements of distant galaxies in the universe that made no sense, based on the known laws of gravity. Astronomers concluded that the sources of these unexplainable forces and activities were very real and labelled them ‘dark matter’ and the energy they emitted or possessed, ‘dark energy’. Furthermore, measurements showed that this dark matter accounted for the majority of the universe’s mass and its energy.
- Unravelling Dark Matter
Whatever was happening in outer space was occurring beyond the wavelength of the human beings’ visible light spectrum. Thus, scientists had to rely on non-optical means to detect or infer dark matter, limiting somewhat the ability to investigate it and to confirm their findings about this important 96% of the universe. Nevertheless, more and more information was assembled about the phenomenon. Consequently, by acknowledging the existence of, and pursing the investigation of, dark matter, astronomers were able to understand a host of previously unexplainable astronomical mysteries.
In the 1990’s the massive international Human Genome Project identified the entire protein-encoding DNA of the human involving billions of complex combinations. Although the DNA that holds the blueprint for protein represented only 2% of the entire DNA, the remaining 98% was viewed as ‘junk’ DNA. It was felt this junk DNA evolved as the human progressed from single-cell life forms to its present complexity. Thus junk DNA was viewed as presently redundant; the human had no reason to cast off this ‘junk’ and so junk DNA had continued to exist. Recently, it was discovered that junk DNA contains the information for many hidden genes, opening the door to the possibility that, like dark matter in the universe, junk DNA plays a major role in human health and development (reference 1). Just as the DNA has quickly unravelled the mysteries of the SARs virus, it is anticipated that junk DNA will explain many present-day mysteries about inheritance and genes, themselves.
- Mysteries of Endeavours
This paper posits that just as these two scientific mysteries contain huge iceberg-like, hidden, but significant under-portions, so too does the science of the workings of human endeavours, especially in the operations of business.
Humans have cooperated with one another to achieve great objectives – from defeating the much larger mammoth or sabre-tooth tiger of the ‘cave-man’ days to erecting 100-story buildings, operating massive governments or putting humans into outer space. Nowhere is human endeavour more commonly epitomized than in the effort of running what we call today, business. Despite business’ history since the time of ancient Rome, businesses remain with two fundamental failings:
a) Most workers are not happy at work (reference 2)
b) Most businesses do not succeed over the long haul, even though the enterprise might be wildly successful in the short term (reference 4)
As a consequence, most great CEOs cannot predict their businesses’ success. By contrast great musicians can predict that they will be able to perform a concerto over and over again successfully (although great CEOs will never fail to attempt to predict their business’ success). These CEOs continue to apply knowledge, approved methods and wisdom that rarely deliver all the predicted results. Sometimes they get enough results to keep their Boards happy. If these known methodologies don’t work, the CEOs just apply them harder and more urgently. They keep at it until they, as well-intentioned bosses, become judged as missing the mark by their Boards; then they are removed and new hero-CEOs are found.
- Dark Matter of Endeavours
There is dark matter at work within the scope of human group-endeavours. In fact, there are two, each dealing with the fundamental failings of enterprises.
Fortunately the first has been discovered and successfully practiced over the past 20 years and can be articulated. Unfortunately it is not well-known. It began with work by Dr. Ichak Adizes (reference 5) and centres on the cache of unresolved problems within the enterprise, and continues with a follow-on body of knowledge (references 6 and 7).
The second dark matter of business, human motivation, also has answers developed over the past decades. The most recent decade has provided monumental work about job satisfaction that if conscientiously followed would result in people being happy at work and a resultant improvement in output (references 8 and 9). However despite a plethora of information, people remain essentially unhappy on the job (reference 3) and output fails to meet expectations.
- Dark Matter #1 – Problems
The first ‘hidden’ force is the mass of unresolved problems. If a company fails to resolve the problems before it, any improvement system imposed on the staff is doomed to failure. No matter the sophistication of new improvement – Business Process Re-engineering, 360 degree evaluations, etc. they are doomed to short-term success only, spurring on the introduction of the next well-intended and expensive cure. How can you fix a company if you do not fix the underlying problems first? Those problems, the dark energy of an enterprise, will thwart any new initiative. Not only they will, they must! Our prediction is that removal of the problems will add 5% of sales volume to the bottom line of a company (most companies would be very happy to have 5% at their bottom line.) You cannot even implement an annual plan if the dark matter is not removed. No wonder so many annual plans fail to deliver! CEOs again and again experience the failure of their annual plans and desperately seek another fix, when in fact the answer lies before them: get rid of the underlying problems first.
If a thoroughbred in training for a key derby runs into a problem, a pulled muscle for example, what must be the first action? Stop the training and fix the problem muscle. Why should it be any different for a business? You cannot win the derby’s prize (profits) if you run the race with a pulled muscle. You have no chance, no matter how optimistic you may be. However if the derby is full of dogs or other horses with pulled muscles you might win a temporary success (as do businesses everywhere – they even win awards for these temporary successes).
- Dark Matter #2 – Motivation
Right on the heels of the problem-solving issue is the complexity of motivating humans to co-operate. At the core of enterprises are human beings. That’s a pretty simple conclusion. Does anyone care to argue it? No matter the technology or the machine, humans are required to optimize what those machines are supposed to deliver. If the humans do not co-operate, it is unlikely that the machines will perform. Even if the machines can perform well now, they will not do so indefinitely without human intervention. How do you get humans to perform well and to enjoy performing well?
(Note: These two ‘dark matters’ are addressed specifically in the Caswell Management System within Plateaus 2 and 3, respectively.)
- Addressing #1 – Problems
Addressing problem solving is no small exercise.
First, to get a problem disclosure initiative started in a company takes enormous nerve and a shift from the current mind-set where problems are neatly pushed under the table (to be agonized over at the water cooler, and continuously avoided until a backlog of unresolved issues mounts, eating away at any attempts towards efficiency). For alcoholics to reform, first they must admit to themselves that they have an alcohol problem. So the company must admit it has a backlog of unresolved problems. And indeed companies do – about 100 such problems in a small company and growing from there with the size of the enterprise (reference 10).
Secondly, a mechanism must be set up to identify the problems in a non-blaming environment where the CEO has to remain subservient to the staff members. As a result of this exercise the number of problems will be staggering and usually overwhelms most CEOs when first exposed to it. Yet there is an enormous sense of relief for all participants including the CEO when the identification part of the process is completed.
Simultaneous with one and two above, you must put other improvement initiatives on hold. Get the alligators out of the swamp before you assign the people to drain it.
Third, a means to solve problems once and for all has to be installed or instilled. This involves understanding and applying the idea of a problem causality direction with certain core problems causing others further along the chain. Problems usually manifest themselves as symptoms without revealing the lower down root causes. For example a loss of a key customer is usually a symptom of something more fundamental in the organization. This is not the time to fire the sales person. Perhaps its source is a planning issue, where poor plans or insufficient budgets have been allocated to product servicing.
Fourth a means to deal with problems proactively has to be established because new problems will march into every doorway unannounced, almost daily, and at the most inopportune moments. A systematic approach must exist that allows these new problems to be dealt with rationally in the context of all the other things that are happening within the enterprise – no panic, but instead with cool objectivity.
Count on spending a substantial time to resolve the problem backlog. Fortunately, while problems are being resolved good things start to happen within the enterprise. Mood becomes positive and co-operation starts to increase dramatically. Profits increase.
- Addressing Accountability
Since, as was stated in paragraph 6, at the core of enterprise are human beings, here then is the second dark issue: you must know how to successfully motivate human beings on a long-term basis.
First, all approaches with people must be bottom up, starting with the individuals, not management. Even the problem-solving (paragraph 7 above) starts with the individual expressing the hurt or pain felt.
Second, the individual must understand the role to be played and how the role will be effective. “What am I supposed to deliver? And to whom? What constitutes my success at doing that?”
Third, management must understand and apply what really motivates people. Monetary rewards are usually #4 or 5 on the depth charts of human motivation; alone, they simply don’t work (reference 11).
Last, the combination of measures and motivational drivers must provide the feedback loop that is clear and unequivocal to the individual. That individual will then become the toughest critic of the job, harsher than the supervisor. More importantly the person will become the source and the driver to raise the bar on job performance. The individual will get the highest level of personal satisfaction from playing that new role, from taking on that responsibility.
By adding up improved performance of individuals, you must get improved performance of departments. Improved performance of departments must lead to improved performance of an enterprise. Like all great discoveries, it’s really very simple.
Count on spending additional time to resolve these accountability issues for individuals. Fortunately, while this is taking place more good things start to happen within the enterprise. Mood becomes more positive and co-operation starts to increase dramatically to a level we call consistent co-operation. Profits increase.
So, while change takes time, the improvements are noticed immediately and they only increase from there.
While the focus of this paper has been on business, the principles apply to any human endeavour – governments, not-for-profits, associations, partnerships and more.
To conclude, there are two dark energies at play within an enterprise. Ignore them if you wish to keep struggling with old methods and techniques picked up from some colleagues, some mentors and some MBA programs. But be prepared for the consequences – a continuation of being mired in almost the same rut two or three years from now.
Consequently, like the scientific revelations of dark matter, by acknowledging the existence of, and systematically pursing the revelation of two dark business matters (i) of problem backlog and (ii) human motivation. CEOs will not only be able to excel, they also will be able to understand a host of previously unexplainable business mysteries (references 6, 7 and 10).