Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How to Leaders Distinguish Paradoxical Issues from Typical Problems

ProblemSqRndholej0379433jpeg A common approach to addressing any issue or problem that arises at work is to ask, what's the problem? Depending on the complexity of the problem, most of us then go through some problem-solving process to arrive at a solution. We then implement the solution in an attempt to solve the problem. This step-by-step problem-solving process works very well when we have a traditional problem to solve, such as whom to hire, which city to build the new plant in, or which vendor to select for the new IT project. Yet, traditional problem solving does not work when dealing with a paradox. That’s because a paradox has four unique characteristics. A paradox:

  1. Consists of two interdependent issues
  2. Has issues that recur over time
  3. Requires choices be made that consider both issues
  4. Is mismanaged when over-focus on one issue creates negative consequences

Last year, an IT department of a bank announced a project to standardize the loan processing. There was an initial enthusiasm from the various branches when the IT project manager solicited early feedback from many of the branch managers. Unfortunately, the project manager and his IT team then spent the next six months designing and implementing a standard, “one size fits all” solution to loan processing with minimal input from the branches. The project team failed to build adequate flexibility into the system to meet the needs of the local branches. During the implementation phase, there was considerable resistance by the users and loan managers. The poorly received project went way over budget and over time.

Do you see what happened here? The IT leaders thought they solved the “standardize/customize problem” by obtaining input early in the process. However, their solution didn’t solve the problem because they didn’t have a problem to solve; they had a paradox to manage. Instead of asking how to solve this problem, they needed to manage a paradox.

Next time you are being pulled by competing issues or conflicting stakeholders, pause to see if you have a paradox by considering the four characteristics outlined above. We’ll discuss how to manage a paradox in future blogs.

Keep eXpanding,

P.S. The web-based eXpansive Leadership Method (XLM) Assessment measures paradox in leadership. Within minutes of completing your assessment (which takes less than 20 minutes to fill out), you can download your highly personalized Profile - a comprehensive, 21 + page report and customized action plan in PDF format. Click: to take the assessment.

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