There are 7 chronic dilemmas that persistently plague organisations.

We call them chronic because they’ve been around for a long time. Successive generations of leaders have either contributed to them or not known how to deal with them.

These dilemmas drain the spirit of the enterprise. Their main long term effect is to turn the attention of the business inward, away from the customer, and into doing business with itself.

Some organisations are lucky – they are too big to fail.

Very few however enjoy this luxury. Understanding these dilemmas, their causes and effects and taking action to confront them, is the key to building a healthy, vibrant organisation

So what are the 7 chronic business dilemmas?

  1. Lack of clarity about the ‘vital few’.

Shifting a team or organisations performance depends on narrowing the focus not on increasing the number of objectives. Getting to the ‘vital few’ means making trade-offs. This means making choices about what is most important so as to properly allocate time, energy and resources. The failure to make these choices leads to too many priorities, and this ultimately means none at all.

2. Dysfunction in the top team.

This is the root cause of many issues, including having too many priorities. When the top team is not cohesive and if executives are not on the same page around what is most important it’s unlikely that vital trade-offs will be made. Instead the proverbial ‘can gets kicked down the road’ and confusion and ambiguity gets multiplied into the business. When this dilemma persists over a long period of time the whole organisation suffers.

3. The wrong people in the key seats.

Not every seat is a key seat but where it is it’s vital to have the right people on board. Not doing so is a grave risk for the business. A risk that can lead to reputational damage, a loss of trust and confidence and the failure to capitalise on opportunities. Of the 7 dilemma’s this one is probably the hardest one to address, requiring an unusual level of courage, sensitivity and insight to tackle.

Chronic Business Dilemmas

4. Confusion about how to make a difference.

This dilemma, and the frustration, apathy and uncertainty it generates, is a material cause of employee disengagement. It contributes directly to a lack of meaning in the work. Most people come to work wanting to feel part of something worthwhile and to know that what they are doing has a purpose. This dilemma is easily solved by the Team Leader but it does ask for awareness, patience and care – qualities that are often in short supply.

5. The busyness trap.

In the absence of clarity and knowing how to make a difference people respond by making themselves busy. Busyness generates activity which in turn introduces complexity and bureaucracy into the system. Rather than ‘making the car go faster’ busyness in fact slows it down. There is real peril in this dilemma because over time the business becomes rigid and inflexible and loses its ability to adapt and respond

6. The unequal distribution of work.

When tasks, responsibilities and workloads become unfairly divided employee morale is the 1st thing to suffer. Those who are overburdened may experience burnout while others feel underutilized and unfairly treated. Both lead to decreased productivity and performance and unleash a vicious cycle of disengagement and cynicism. This dilemma is often systemic. To be addressed properly it must be tackled at the root cause.

7. Misaligned reward and recognition systems.

Recognition systems that prioritise ‘short-termism’ and individual performance over teamwork are frequently the norm. This happens even when the company values say things like trust, collaboration, teamwork and working together. Reward and recognition systems must reinforce the values not contradict them. Otherwise this generates cynicism, and leads to negative, destructive internal competition.

Many of these dilemmas are long standing but they are by no means permanent.

In fact in a healthy organisation, leaders work relentlessly to minimise their effect.

This is because they know that it’s very difficult to stop a healthy organisation from succeeding …

And they also understand that tackling these dilemmas is the most important contribution they can make to the success of the organisation in the long term.

Related Reading: What is the most important responsibility of the Executive Team?

Does your business suffer from any of these dilemmas?
We’d love to hear from you. Please write to me or comment below.

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