Poor organizational performance is often the result of a vicious circle. One example of such vicious circle in a product development organization is: poor product quality leads to a large effort spent on rework, customer support and bug fixes leads to lack of resources leads to poorly executed early phases of the next development project leads to poor quality…
Similar kinds of vicious circles can be found in our personal lives, for instance: bad physical shape leads to general tiredness and illness leads to pain when exercising leads to avoiding exercise leads to bad physical shape…
For improvement to happen, a vicious circle often needs to be broken. This requires, yes, faith and pain.
The first runs or workouts after a period of sedentary life are painful. You may become short of breath after a few hundred meters of running and your muscles will most likely be sore the day after. If you can’t endure that discomfort or pain, no improvement will be possible; no pain, no gain. Another type of discomfort is that of sacrificing some other perhaps more immediately gratifying activity for your exercise.
To break operational vicious circles involving e.g., poor product quality, “organizational exercise” is required. Ultimately people need to do things differently from what they did in the past to break the vicious circle. (This may sound like a truism but it is surprisingly often forgotten.) The change will require new skills to be learnt, old habits to be kicked, perhaps even modified values to be adopted. Some of these things can be joyful but some can also be painful. To find the time for that extra effort you may need to delay the release of a new product, to hire extra help, to work overtime or something similar. All that adds to the pain.
When starting to excercise, you usually don’t see or feel any improvement in the beginning. You only feel the pain. To get through the first few workouts you therefore need to have faith in the future positive effects of the excercise. Only that faith will take you to the point where you can start to feel or measure the improvement. In an organization you likewise need to have faith in the improvement activities to make the initial sacrifices and take that initial pain.
I will return to faith and pain in later posts.
There is a great treatise of vicious circles and other types of systems involving feedback loops in Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline.