If I Had A Hammer, I’d Hammer Out Ready-Made Workplace Solutions

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Sep 2, 2013

Remember Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of the song If I Had a Hammer?

The song goes “If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning, I’d hammer in the evening, all over this land.” That song was an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement and a classic American folk song.

Lately, my mind has been rewriting the song like this:  “If I had a hammer, everything would look like a nail, and I’d hammer all over Corporate America.

OK, well not too poetic, I admit. But the premise is what seems to happen when consultants, conference and best practices converge on a business entity to provide solutions to often unknown problems that relate to their human resources.

The problem with ready-made solutions

There are two reasons that I worry about engaging ready-made solutions. One reason is because often the variables are different in the organization applying the “solution” than they were in other organizations.

As an example, one organization improved their health care quality by transparently posting the weekly quality results in full view of employees and patients. This transparency worked because that organization had a culture of candid an open dialogue in conducting post-event reviews.

Hearing this success story at a conference, an executive returned and initiated the process in his organization. This same “solution” overlaid on an organization where employees were afraid to speak up resulted in bad feelings and accusations. The variables in the second organization were sufficiently different to cause the solution to backfire.

And then there is the age-old “problem” where the manager asks for additional training because her team isn’t performing, only to spend $15,000 on a program that didn’t solve the problem because the manager’s style WAS the problem. There are hundreds of people just waiting to sell you training that shows “measurable results,” but due diligence is important to make sure that the right problem is being addressed — otherwise, the “hammer is looking for a nail.”

No ownership of the issue

The second reason that I am not fond of ready-made solutions is that the organization may not feel ownership of the solution, and for that reason spends a great deal of time responding to objections and finding “issues” with the solution when actually applied.

Ah, but then there are more vendors waiting to sell “change management” programs to help employees and leaders with the change. If employees are actively (yes, actively) involved in building the program or process organically, they become the ambassadors for the change.

Truly there are excellent vendors, consultants, conferences and best practices that can provide insight, challenge your thinking and serve as an objective observer and questioner. There are also quite a few “hammers” looking for the proverbial nail. How do you tell the difference?

First, your organization needs the courage to want to identify and solve the right problem. On occasion, solutions present themselves through relationships, business trade-offs or organizational politics.

How to know if the solution is right

The organization must be willing to stand firm on making sure that the solution being provided is solving the right problem.

  • Does the “solution” involve multiple departments or units? If so, those impacted need to be involved BEFORE the solution is selected.
  • Does the vendor have a diagnostic process to identify the real problem? Is the process grounded in scientific problem identification techniques that look beyond the situation being addressed?
  • Does the vendor have a solution? If so, vigilance may be required to make sure that the “problem identification process” is not slanted toward the vendor’s solution.

Conferences, consultants and best practices are great resources and can add real value to an organization by providing objectivity, knowledge, experience and research-based processes and solutions.

They don’t, however, know your organization. Your active due diligence and partnership will go a long way toward partnership to find the right solution to fit the real problem.

This originally appeared on the ….@ the intersection of learning & performance blog.