No organization is perfect.  We each can look around and say “stuff is broken here.”

So, how to fix things?

First off, why fix things?  After all, if I am a lowly programmer, it is not up to me to fix things, right?  After all, they pay executives, don’t they?  Shouldn’t an executive earn their salary by fixing the stuff that’s broken?

First off, the executives whe are responsible may not fix things.  Lots of reasons:

  1. They may not see the problem you see.
  2. They may consider the problem you are seeing as “benign” and therefore not worth fixing. 
  3. They may see the problem but they may see no reasonable way to fix it within the budget/people/culture of the organization.
  4. They may see the problem but they may have decided not to fix it because other problems are more strategic.
  5. They may have chosen to create the problem as a tradeoff when fixing a different problem.

Know what?  Most executives see the problems.  They see them way too much.  When I was a manager, there was a standing rule in my office: Bring Solutions.  It’s a pretty common rule.

So if you want to fix the broken stuff, you have to do a few key things.

First and foremost, you have to show that fixing this problem is aligned with corporate strategy.  If the company wants to have four completely independent divisions, you will get nowhere by convincing an executive to merge all the purchasing decisions. 

On the other hand, if the company wants to take on a new market, and they have not done so, show that your change will help them to do it.  If you change doesn’t align to strategy, drop it.  Be the “doubter” and prove it, without a shadow of a doubt, that fixing this problem is the right thing to do and this is the right time to do it. 

Once you have this, find the person you have to convince.  That’s difficult.  Spend some time thinking about it.  Is it Joe in Marketing, or Sue in Sales, or Tom in operations?  Think: If I were “Joe” and I decided to fix this problem, what would I do?  Am I the right guy to fix it?  If you have this person targeted, think about what it will take to change their mind.  Do they respond to numbers or emotions?  Do they believe in instincts or principles?  Do they think short term or long term?  Tailor your message.

So, what’s in the message?

  • Demonstrate that the problem exists by demonstrating the financial implications of the problem.  Everything has financial implications.  Everything.  Get your facts in line.  Get the folks who are supplying your facts to agree with your conclusions.
  • Demonstrate that the problem is worth fixing.  Find a positive spin: we will perform better, save money, compete better.  Demonstrate that the problem you are trying to fix shows up a lot in ‘unprofitable companies’ (no one wants to be in that category). 
  • Share success stories about companies that have fixed the problem: what they got from it, how much better life is for them, how there are so few negative impacts and so many positive ones.  Remove barriers to adoption.
  • Demonstrate how their decision to fix the problem will align with corporate strategy.  Show how it will make the company go “faster” where they already want to go.  This is very important.  Paint the future and show how terribly important that they fix the problem you see before they can get to the future.
  • Demonstrate that you have thought about the tradeoffs that may have created the problem and show how your solution doesn’t violate those tradeoffs.  Tell the story of a company that maintains its focus, your company, in the face of changing business climates, by leveraging the thing you want to fix.
  • Ask for the sale: Have a plan that they can sign up to.  Make it inexpensive: even if it is a plan to build a plan.  Get your executive to agree that it is worth a shot to dig a little, see if the solution can be implemented.  Look for test cases or pilot projects that you can apply your fix to. 

You can fix things.   If you don’t, no one will.


By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

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