There’s a reason we say, “It’s only the tip of the iceberg.” Only about one-ninth of an iceberg is visible above water, but it’s not the visible portion you have to worry about. It’s the other eight-ninths that are lurking below. Corporations are like that, and the symptoms you see are often only the tip of the iceberg. What’s underneath? What’s really going on? How can we get past visible symptoms and find the root of the issue? You have to dive down to figure out what’s going on – and then fix it.

When we look at breakdowns in organization systems, there is never just one cause. There is never just one piece that is slightly askew; it’s frequently many pieces of the puzzle that do not fit. Often, the biggest portion of the iceberg is leadership, its failure to recognize problems or handle them effectively, and the structure of an organization itself. These factors can run any ship aground.

Every organization is unique, but in general, there is a process by which we can determine what’s broken, and as importantly, how we can fix it.

  1. Plan. Here’s what we’re going to do.
  2. Discovery. What is the nature and scope of the problem? We go through an intensive investigative phase that looks beyond the obvious.
  3. Report. This is what I’m finding; these are the areas that I identify as weaknesses and challenges.
  4. Solutions. This is what we need to do to fix it.

Now, I don’t want to imply your organization is the Titanic and I’m the deus ex machina that’s going to come in and save the day. That’s an insult to the hard work you do for your organization and its people. Rather, what I can do is be a trusted advisor. It is often easier for me to elicit information because I am not vested in office politics, nor am I ever going to violate a confidence; in other words, people might tell me things they would not tell their boss, or they would not report to their CEO because they are not afraid of reprisal or of being singled out.

Sometimes the fixes are very simple when you can identify which levers you need to pull: say HR reports directly to the CFO, for instance. What you might not be hearing is that your people feel like they’re nothing but dollar signs. So, why not have the VP for HR report directly to the CEO, instead of the CFO? It is a quick fix; information still flows up, and back down, but people will feel as if they’re more than numbers. Even small fixes can have big ripple effects and provide great traction for change in an organization.

Regardless of the nature of the change, whether it is complex or simple, it is important to delve down into the real substance of the issue or challenge. The only way to create lasting solutions is to know exactly what you’re fixing.