An Interview with Dr Ichak Adizes

By Michael Mitchell

(Part two)


In the previous issue of Insights, we brought you the first part of an interview with Dr Adizes by Michael Mitchell, a freelance writer covering national business and management issues. The second portion of the interview follows.

Mitchell: We were discussing some of the fundamental differences between the Adizes methodology and other consulting disciplines. You mentioned that Adizes is unique in that it recognizes you must first change the organizational climate before you can change the behavior of the individual, so you work on the business of the organization; what will make the organization successful and allow the individual to fit into it. Do I have the right?

Adizes: Yes. Our methodology is holistic, systemic, structural and participative. Most important, it works, as demonstrated by our remarkable success rate of almost 100% implementing organizational strategic changes with hundreds of companies worldwide.

Mitchell: In my experience, it is most unusual for a consulting firm to resign a client for anything but non-payment, yet you mentioned you have done exactly that.

Adizes: It may be unusual, but we have resigned client companies where CEOs expected a solution to be given to them or who refused to participate in the change.

Mitchell: Does that mean you help clients find solutions to their organizational problems within themselves?

Adizes: In our experience, the solution generally resides somewhere within the total organization. It may be the employees on the line, the salespeople or other workers who are close to what is happening on a daily basis, but that info rmation never flows back to the people who can make a decision to do something about it.

Sometimes, the people who make the decision have the authority but not the power to implement solutions. This can occur when barriers to implementation exist as a result of people being afraid to make changes or if certain senior interests are threatened. This causes organizational disintegration because those who know and understand the problems do not have authority to rectify them and those with authority do not necessarily have the power to enforce it. As you can see, it is possible for an organization to know the solutions but not be able to get them to the formalization or implementation stages.

Mitchell: How do you overcome that?

Adizes: Our strength is in being able to coalesce power, authority and influence. First, we find out “who knows” and we bring them to the table. Next, we learn who is necessary for implementation of the solution — assuming we know what solution is — and include them. As we learn more, we might change the composition of the group at the table. Finally, we include whomever has the authority to say “yes and no” to the table. I do not mean the people who can say “yes or no” but “yes AND no” to the solution. This is a critical distinction, one most consultant completely miss. We find in many organizations, people have the right to say “no” but not to say “yes”. It is essential that the people who can say “yes” are included at the table. There is a specific discipline ­— a technology — revolving around who to bring to the table and how to get them to start communicating with one another with mutual respect and trust. And with constructive conflict but without fighting.

Mitchell: I am staggered by the deceptive simplicity with which you go about finding solutions with your clients. You make it sound so straightforward but I know it is far from simple. Why is it, do you suppose, other consultants fail to get all the people necessary for implementing a solution into the same room?

Adizes: There are a variety of reasons. Some consultants never ask the hard questions that determine who within the organization needs to be included. Some are afraid to stipulate that the “yes” people attend. Too often, the group is composed of people who know what should be done but do not have the power nor authority to make it happen. They may have the power to undermine the solution without even knowing what the solution is supposed to be. Typically, that’s because they are trying to protect their self-interests.

We know how to bring these divergent groups together and get them to jointly begin analyzing the problem, come to a conclusion as to what the problem is, why it is necessary to reach a solution, and at the end of the day, to jointly conclude they should cooperate to get things moving forward. In this way, the whole company moves ahead towards the solution because we have united the knowledge, power and authority. And if for some reason the knowledge does not already reside within the company, which is rare, the knowledge must be imported using outside consultants. However, I have only seen that occur twice in thirty years! The solution is almost always resident within the organization. However, the art is in helping the company uncover, examine, discuss and implement the solution in an environment of mutual trust and respect. Seeing the solutions implemented as a result of our efforts is wonderfully rewarding.

Mitchell: You mentioned that many consultants use the “bypass system”: What is that?

Adizes: A lot of consultants rely on the bypass system. They go into an organization, talk to the people who understand the problem, then write a report and submit it to the people with the authority to decide. Unfortunately, this goes nowhere because the people within the organization are unable to communicate with one another; that’s why they called in the consultant in the first place.

Here’s an analogy. If a family has a problem where the husband and wife cannot communicate, they go to a psychotherapist who provides a safe environment for the two to talk to one another. What the unhappy couple cannot do by themselves at home they pay a lot of money to someone else so they can talk to each other in a protective setting. Essentially, this is what many consultants do; provide a safe environment so workers and management can communicate with one another.

At Adizes, we steer clear of the bypass system. Instead, we gather all the necessary people into a room and provide a methodology that allows them to talk to one another, jointly determine and agree on the problems they face, and create a road map for a solution.

Mitchell: So again, getting the necessary people to the table is critical.

Adizes: It is vital that you have the people with the authority to solve the problem in the room. Organizations typically allocate problems by responsibility, but that’s wrong. Problems should be allocated by authority, not responsibility. Once we do that, if the problem cannot be solved at the level we are working at, we move up to the next level. This way, we help solve the problems we have the authority to solve, and for the problems where the necessary authority is missing, we ascend the organizational hierarchy until we can connect the problem with the authority needed to solve it.

Mitchell: Obviously, the methodology of balancing strategy and structure is contingent upon management’s acceptance of changing the organizational structure. Don’t you run into a silo mentality?

Adizes: That kind of resistance can exist in any organization, but we do not accept clients until we have first conducted a two-day workshop with them. The workshop gives us the opportunity to determine whether silos exist and if they can be removed. We provide the tools for self-diagnosis and determination of where the organization is in its corporate lifecycle, and whether its problems are normal, abnormal or fatal. We have everyone in the room write down the most pressing problems within the company. This is done anonymously so they can be completely honest. We don’t allow anyone to be mentioned by name and we require the problems be expressed in language that indicates they are controllable by people in the room, who must include those with ultimate authority for the company or business unit being diagnosed. This might include several layers of the organizational structure, perhaps twenty or thirty people. The problems must also be expressed appropriately. You cannot comment that “It is raining outside”; you can say “We don’t have an umbrella”. You cannot say “Interest rates are unpredictable;” you can say “We don’t have a strategy to respond to unpredictable interest rates”.

Mitchell: What happens next?

Adizes: Before I ask to see what problems people have written down, I ask them how many of their problems existed last year? Two years ago? Three? Typically people will say most of them. Well, if a problem has existed for the last three years, it’s not hard to get agreement that chances are, the same problem will still be around in another three years. When I ask how many problems can be solved by any single individual, including the CEO, people usually say “none of them”. So even though I don’t know what they have written down, their admission that no one, not even their CEO, can solve the problems indicates that if the problems could have been solved, they probably would have been solved by now, which has not happened.

The reason why is because the organization has its managers each chasing ten problems instead of having ten managers chasing one problem at a time. We try to compel the people in the room to decide which problems they should chase together and which problems should be put on the backburner until the problems on the front burner are solved. Their first task is not deciding which problems to solve but rather which problems not to solve. This way, the organization can free up resources and jointly work on the priority problems. People begin to see that they have been chasing too many problems and the reason they have been unable to get the cooperation of others is that those people are busy chasing their own set of problems. Everyone is running in place and little is being accomplished.

Once we determine where the organization is on its corporate lifecycle, we can determine which problems are normal and which are abnormal. We can then align the organization’s priorities correctly. Because no one is mentioned by name, no one is on the hot seat and people are free to open up. They learn to accept that “we” have a problem, not “he” or “they” have a problem. The questions can then relate to what “we” should do, which makes a huge difference in the room’s climate. People can join hands to solve problems versus pointing fingers at one another.

All of this is predicated on first correcting the organizational structure. People quickly recognize the linkage: They have a climate issue, which is causing a structural issue, which is causing an info rmation flow problem, which is causing a strategic problem, which is creating functional problems that are causing the company to lose market share. There is a sequence to the problems and after counseling hundreds of companies all over the world over the past thirty years, I can assure you that the sequence is universal. Once organizations realize how their structure is causing their problems, it legitimizes the rationale that they have to first deal with the structure, not just the problems. Unless the structure is repaired, nothing much will change.

Mitchell: You mentioned earlier that most consultants employ a failed approach of first defining the strategy then recommending the structure that ostensibly will deliver the strategy.

Adizes: Yes. Our approach is more interactive regarding the strategy and structure.

We move back and forth between the two, gradually ascending the ladder one step at time. Eventually, the two sides meet at the top, at which point it is clear that the structure has to change if the mission and strategy are to be implemented.

Other consultants write reports regarding what the organizational structure should be and change it overnight. The next morning, the new organization is announced and immediately there is enormous resistance. It can take years to make the new strategy work because of the resistance and implementation difficulties. We are the only consulting organization that knows how to balance structure and strategy in this sequential manner, a methodology that is being increasingly embraced worldwide by businesses and governments alike.

Mitchell: I am genuinely impressed by your methodology, Ichak. I wish you continued success and look forward to hearing more about your work in the future.

Adizes: Thanks for taking the time to learn about us.