I was recently reading an exchange between Dr. Kristina Talbert-Slagle and retired Army General Stanley McChrystal comparing how a virus like HIV or AIDS works to how an insurgency like Al Qaeda in Iraq works and I was more then a little surprised at the similarities. I went on to make the same correlations that McChrystal himself makes in the fantastic book Team of Teams in comparing those same viruses to the struggles an Organization sees during a failed business transformation.
When someone contracts something like HIV or AIDS its never the actual virus itself that kills a person, the virus weakens the body’s immune system allowing it to fall victim to any number of otherwise non fatal infections. Organizations struggling with transformation often face the same problems. It’s extremely common for an organization under transformation to run into any number of expected non threatening challenges, however the true death of the transformation comes as a result of chasing down and trying to resolve all the “symptoms” of those normal non threatening challenges. When an organization shifts it’s focus away from the larger trans formative activities it falls victim to the death of a thousand cuts as it continues to chase down small out lying issues.
In business transformation, much like our own person health, its important to treat the symptom of the problem but the far more critical issue is getting to the bottom of the route cause and not losing sight of the larger transformation. It’s always easier to view each problem in a vacuum but the key is to take a step back and see how the current problem is interacting with the organizational echo system. Viewing the problem from this 10,000 foot level allows you to see the problem in its environment and better understand how the problem is interlinked with unexpected areas.