Bringing Order to Chaos

We have all been there! Taking over a company or group that has lost its way or suffering under market conditions that has overwhelmed it. Or, a major customer relationship erupts requiring immediate triage to stabilize and return to a normal business relationship. Or, you are blind sided by a third party trying to disrupt your organization by hiring away key employees affecting product development, sales and operations, or undercutting you position at key accounts. What do you do?

Your plan of action is a result of a quick but careful assessment of the conditions that exist. Many contradictory factors may be in play: Lack of organization and individual confidence, trust issues (mistrust, blame, defensiveness), break down in business discipline, poor communication, poor vision execution, etc. The effectiveness of your action plan is based on how you organize and prioritize what you do first, second and so on!

The following is a five-step process that I have used successfully to deal with severe organization dysfunction and poor performance:

  • Focus Employees On What They Can Control – The biggest distraction that I find that needs to be contained is the disruption that things people cannot control causes. Uncontrollable events can be very distracting to many employees and they are far more productive and satisfied when they can offload the unexpected and uncontrollable issues and Focus on What They Can Control.
  • Establish a Crisis Path – As a sizable part of the organization returns to processing controllable events there needs to be a timely response to the uncontrollable. Every organization has people who are more adept and comfortable dealing with uncontrollable problems where boundaries are poorly defined. They thrive on solving crisis. These people are capable of rising to the occasion in creating and developing solutions that solve tough problems in a timely and effective manner.
  • Establish a Horizon – A dysfunctional organization has lost track of what it is working toward. It may be difficult to target a long term goal right away. Daily (or in more severe cases hourly) goals or targets might be necessary at the beginning to measure progress and accomplishment for the organization. A sustainable track record of attaining daily goals will lead to increased confidence in setting longer term weekly and then monthly goals.
  • Eliminate the Root Causes of the Uncontrollable– As the organization begins to redirect itself toward a successful direction and uncontrollable crisis are contained; resources need to be applied to eliminating the causes of repetitive crisis. Possible reasons for this condition are:
    • Poor quality that is either occurring in the organization or by a supplier in the supply chain.
    • Critical business processes that are not being complied with.
    • Customer communication on commitments and expectations has broken down leading to an unrealistic demand on company resources.
  • Honesty, Transparency and Communication – Through all of this it is imperative to be as honest with employees and customers as possible. Ongoing urgent or crisis situations breeds skepticism. Telling the ruth is golden over telling people what they want to hear. I have had amazing response from employees and customers alike when I present the truth about a situation rather than using double talk or worse – delay and deny – to deal with a problem.

Are these the only steps you can use to bring order to chaos. No! These five-steps have worked successfully for me in laying a foundation of stability in addressing severe organizational dysfunction in a number of management assignments in my career. Some of you may have circumstances that required a different tact and I would certainly appreciate hearing from you on what worked best for you.

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