Solving wicked problems in your organisation

people management Dec 16, 2022

As a result of the work we do, we know that there are no “perfect” organisations. They all struggle with their own problems, challenges, issues, and opportunities.

Sometimes, a group of executives knowledgeable of the issue, sit down and navigate path forward. It may not be an ideal solution, but it “works” with as little pain as possible… and that’s fine and reasonably typical.

Then there are the “wicked problems” which, according to Buchanan (1992) are “a class of social problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing.”

If you’re not experienced is dealing with wicked problems, then the chances of achieving an outcome that “works” and is “painless” is highly unlikely. The reason for this is that many issues are very complex, interconnected, interdependent, and they impact on, or are impacted by:

• The political, regulatory and legal environment.
• The lack of clarity and definition of outcomes that are favoured by owners, or in the case of NFPs, NGOs, or government, is clarity of outcomes defined by the organisation’s Charter or equivalent.
• The generic nature of the organisation’s KPOs (Key Performance Objectives) thus causing confusion in management of the exact outcomes they are expected to deliver.
• The lack of certainty of the markets or operating environments the organisation needs to operate within to secure the required KPOs. Also, not understanding competitors and economic and industry dynamics confuses, distracts and leads to impactful mistakes. And then there is a failure to understand your customers in their varying segments and their needs related to those segments.
• The lack of clarity of the tri-level critical match of market segments, products and services, and required outcomes.
• Lack of clarity and understanding of the necessary alignment between the market segment and the products and services pitched to those segments, and the operational impacts on channels, support requirements and sales technique and messaging.
• Hiring the wrong people.
• Supporting a culture that does not assist objectives.
• Installing the wrong systems.
• Structuring management in a manner that does not make sense to the way the organisation needs to operate.
• Not modelling decisions to ensure that the time, cost, effort, and outcomes expended deliver the required objectives.
• Operating via the cash book instead of an approved strategic and business plan.
• Struggling with determining which factors are relevant and which are not.
• Reconciling competing stakeholder objectives.

Now image all of these wheels spinning simultaneously. How do you navigate all of that and determine a path to the achievement of your organisation’s objectives? It’s difficult, and that’s why every organisation has issues, and none are “perfect”.

There is a way to work with wicked problems – the 12 Pivot-Points method that seeks clarity, purpose, inter-connectedness, and specified outcomes for the 12 fundamental parts of the organisation. If you get these 12 Pivot-Points right, you will be much more likely to achieve your organisation’s objectives.

In a nutshell, here are the 12 Pivot-Points and their sequence. Something for you to reflect on.

1. Your Purpose: The myth is that every organisation is crystal-clear about why they do what they do. We have plenty of examples that this is not true. And when it’s not true, or even only partially true, then the organisation is at risk.
2. Targeting quantified objectives: Being “bigger, better, or satisfying customers” are common and “nice” objectives that drive many organisations. The problem is that you do these and many other things for a purpose. We have many examples of organisations whose purpose is not clear, acknowledged and measurable. As a result of management’s subjective (but normal) view of things, there is every chance that your purpose and objectives won’t be fulfilled.
3. Your Market: The market you choose must deliver 100% of your objectives – because there’s nowhere else to get them from. By carefully analysing the segments in your market you can ensure delivery of your organisation’s objectives. We have many examples of when not understanding this will cause failure.
4. Your products and services: Only when you have clarity of the nature and needs of your various market segments, can you effectively sell your products and services to those market segments. We have many examples of organisations that pitch their products and services to market segments that don’t want them and ignoring those segments that do. A recipe for failure.
5. Your channels: The channels used by organisations selling to businesses (B2B) are different to those selling directly to consumers (B2C). We have many examples of organisations that mix up their channels and fail to give the customer their preferred method of interaction and sales. We also have many examples of organisations failing to recognise the true nature of the modern multi-channel universe we all now operate within. That’s a recipe for failure.
6. Your support: It’s wonderful selling customers products and services, and it’s wonderful that customers like and appreciate what we provide. However, not all things go to plan. We have many examples of organisations whose support strategies and actions disappoint themselves and their customers. When customers are unhappy, they spread the negative word about you – and that can become a real problem.
7. Your systems: We love it when our technology, systems, and processes do what they’re meant to do. We have many examples of organisations who established (and paid a lot for) their technologies and systems without understanding the impact that they have on the rest of the organisation – and wiping the smiles off the faces of their managers. Technology, systems and processes are enablers and cannot be resolved without a clear understanding of the functions they support and who relies on them. Failure to understand this causes organisational failure.
8. Your sales and communication: The only way to effectively communicate with and sell to, is by having a clear understanding of the nature, character and needs of those with whom you’re communicating with and selling to. We have many examples of organisations who wrongly believe that everyone wants their products and services, regardless of their real needs and preferences. Another recipe for a lot of wasted effort and expenditure, and inevitable failure.
9. Your people: People are in the organisation for a purpose: they have a role to fulfil and an organisational outcome to contribute to. This is a simple concept, yet we have many examples of organisations who confuse the roles people play and the culture they’re immersed in, with the roles they need to play and a culture that nurtures them – such confusion leads to failure.
10. Your management: Structure is not the first consideration in managing your organisation. Structure is “merely” an enabler that helps you deal with the context, nature, complexity, and needs of your context. We have many examples of organisations who change their management structure without fully understanding its harmful impacts.
11. Knowing the impacts of decisions: Management regularly makes decisions (it’s their job) that impact the organisation. However, those decisions aren’t always modelled and quantified for time, cost, effort, impacts, and resources required. That can have disastrous results and cause failure. We have many examples of organisation that have made significant decisions without modelling the impacts of those decisions on internal and external stakeholders.
12. In the drawer or on the wall: Your organisation spends around 3-months building its strategic and business plans. Do you then “stick it on the wall” and run your organisation according to it, or do you stick it in the drawer and run the organisation by the cash book? If you stick it in the drawer, then you will fail to achieve your plan’s objectives. We have many examples of organisation who are guilty of the drawer method – and they fail.

If you want to have a chat, then send us a message and we’ll connect.