When Managing a Mess: Go Directly to C

As executives face the inevitable personnel mess, their first instinct is nearly always “fight or flight.” Neither is likely to work.

Most management situations are counter intuitive, but management by trial and error can be very costly. Your instincts will be to try the easiest option first. When that doesn’t work, you’ll likely try a slight modification. Only when the first two steps fail will you be forced to examine the tough choices that are likely to solve the problem. I suggest you create plans A, B and C, then disregard the first two in favor of the third.

planningWhen you’re faced with a management mess, your first reaction will be to formulate plan A. This is usually the path of least resistance and sometimes it will even work. More often, there will be a need for mid-course corrections, which becomes plan B. When this strategy doesn’t work, you are generally left with the most radical or least attractive alternative—plan C.

Plan C is what we didn’t want to face in the beginning, although it was probably a clear solution. It’s not that we want to run from our problems; it’s simply human nature that we hope problems can be solved easily. We really want plan A to work.

My experience has shown me that plan A is related to that flight or fight response. Usually, it’s not thought out well or very realistically. As you begin to see its inherent flaws, plan B emerges, but plan B is often little more than an attempt to jam the round peg deeper into the square hole.

Plan C will almost always be the most effective way to solve the problem. My recommendation for you is to go ahead and make plan A, even plan B. Look at them closely; then be realistic, take a hard swallow, and set both aside. Now draft plan C.

Once you have a realistic plan, identify someone who you respect and trust. Remember, if you take an unpolished idea up to your board or your boss, its flaws will be identifiable, and it will be a poor reflection on your skills and judgment. If you take your ideas to the next level up the organization, you could undermine your position in management.

I suggest that you identify a mentor or, better, several mentors to assist in polishing your ideas and planning your moves. Napoleon Hill, in his landmark book, Think and Grow Rich, urged readers to establish what he described as a mastermind group. Everyone needs an individual or, better yet, a group of individuals to assist him or her in polishing ideas and establishing plans of action.

Personnel messes occur every day in large corporations and small businesses. They can be the ruin of both. When you face such a mess, you need to have the wisdom and courage to identify and then implement plan C. As much as you wish plans A and B to work, my suggestion is to go directly to plan C after working with a mentor group to help polish, clarify and perfect it.

Category: Leadership

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About the Author: Steve Cohen

Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., CMC is President/Partner of Labor Management Advisory Group, Inc. and HR Solutions: On-Call, both based in Kansas City, MO.Often described as a “mess management” expert for his ability to skillfully resolve people prob…

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