“This Has to Stop” Is Not the Answer

If you’re like most leaders and team members, you’re familiar with this phrase:  “This has to stop.” It’s a phrase we use in meetings and conversations when one or more people have identified a problem in the organization – something that’s not working or which is getting in the way of some form of success—and this identification often leads to celebration and pats on the back. Yes, it is good news (often feeling like great news) when you clearly identify something that “has to stop” for the good of your organization or team. The problem is that too often we stopwith “this has to stop” and miss the much more important next step – identifying and implementing a solution to whatever it is that has to stop.

I often consult with or coach leaders and team members who confidently share with me that something has to stop, but they are often unprepared or ill-prepared for my next question: “What is the solution that you’ve identified for this problem?” They’re also often unprepared for the next steps other than to vaguely tell me that they have scheduled a meeting to discuss the thing that has to stop. From this I am usually confident (sadly) that the solution is not likely to be an outcome of the meeting or discussion because all the focus is on the clarity about what has to stop. Why? Because the solution to what has to stop is typically much more difficult to discover, and the successful implementation of the solution more difficult still.

While finding what has to stop is a good start, the next few steps require a simple process in order to develop the right solutionfor the problem. This also requires that you make sure you have accurately identified the real problem – not just what has to stop but the problem (or problems) underlying the thing that has to stop. Typically, the thing that has to stop is not the problem itself, but the evidence or outcome of the problem. If you try to solve the thing that has to stop, you’ll often miss the underlying issues that must be the focus of the real solution.

With this reality in focus, I’ve developed a simple approach to assessing the thing that has to stop in order to better identify and develop a solution designed to fix the real problem or problems. This approach consists of four separate and often interrelated areas of focus:

  1. People– This involves assessing the people connected with and impacting the thing that needs to stop. Are they the wrong people? Do they need more or different training? Do they need more or different information? Do they need more or different communication or management?
  2. Process – This involves assessing the process involved with the thing that needs to stop. Is there a missing process, a bad process or are there gaps in the process? And yes, there might very well be cross-over issues between people and the process.
  3. Training – This involves assessing the training related to the thing that needs to stop. Is there missing training, poor training or inadequate follow up and reinforcement of the training? This might also relate to absent or missing ongoing mentoring.
  4. Leadership – This involves assessing the leadership involved with the thing that needs to stop, whether specific to the thing or more generally applicable (or missing) with the organization or team. This might involve the failure to provide clear vision, failure to consider unexpected impacts from other messages or initiatives, and failure to see around corners (to expect the unexpected). There are many ways that leadership (or the lack thereof) can impact things that need to stop in your organization.

The real problem (and thus the essential focus of the solution) will likely require considering and addressing all four of the above. However, too many solutions are singular in focus (addressing only one of these areas) or developed without considering any of these distinct sources of the problems creating the thing that needs to stop.

This list may sound too simple, but think about the last time you were discussing and possibly addressing something that needs to stop. Did you consider all of these solution areas? Did you consider any of them? Did you assess the ways they likely intersect in creating the thing that needs to stop? As a starting point, did you even consider the real problems or issues that are creating the thing that needs to stop?

Yes, it’s good news to realize that something needs to stop, but this awareness is just the beginning of the path to an impactful solution. Unless and until you thoughtfully and collaboratively consider all the pieces of the problems – getting all of the different people and perspectives engaged in the solution process – your solution is unlikely to fully and effectively address the thing that needs to stop.

The next time you find yourself or your team members getting clear on what “has to stop,” keep digging, get clear, and assess all four of the above focus areas. Then develop a solution designed to address the real problem. Rather than focus on and quit at “this has to stop,” instead focus on what has to change and be different to replace what has to stop. This is the right question which will lead to the real (and impactful) answers and solutions!

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