JLTalley & Associates

Making the complex clear

I help one person to better understand one problem. After hundreds of engagements, I have learned that my clients often have the skills and tools needed to address an organizational problem; my most important contribution was providing a laser sharp focus on the essential nature of the problem. So my current practice is to ensure that a problem definition is thorough, credible, and actionable. Once we have a clear direction and focus, I can step away.

If you are a senior manager or an OD consultant with a challenging client, you might want to take advantage of this service, especially if you are facing a problem of unusual complexity, significant strategic impact, or company-wide implications. You probably have (or have access to) a variety of tools for touching the organization (focus groups, surveys, off site retreats, All-Hands meetings, etc.). The unsettled question is where to apply that touch. In short, it is critical to be clear about the essential nature of the problem before committing resources and pursuing organizational changes.

Consideration of solutions often dominates the early discussion of any organizational challenge. So time spent reflecting on the subtleties of the problem feels like just postponing the needed relief. While the pain may be clear, the underlying problem is usually not. And opening the discussion to include broader staff input is both appealing and daunting at the same time. New voices at the table bring the chance of deeper insights and stronger support. But it also means slower decision-making and the possibility of a myriad of new issues to confound the discussion.

There are 3 requirements to do this work well. The first is having a robust model for the situation. An abstract template focuses our attention and suggests links that are not obvious on the surface. Without a model to guide our thought, the inquiry will just expand without limit and eventually frustrate people and use up limited attention.

Second, we have to explore the raw data fearlessly and without prejudice. Interviews, focus groups, surveys, document examination, and process performance all provide windows into the nuance of the problem. I have found that if we look thoroughly enough at the problem, the solution will reveal itself as well.

Third, we have to build a discovery process that also engages employees in voicing their concerns, contributing to the emerging understanding, and owning the eventual solution.

If this brief overview is of interest, please check our FAQs for additional information.