We have all heard the axiom “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. By extension of that logic, I suppose that means if it is broke, then fix it. Observing the behavior of many managers over the years, I believe many of them possess a powerful urge to do just that: FIX THINGS. In fact, many of them constantly seem on the look out for anything needing fixing and thus the application of their “fix it skills”. So if you are one of those Ms. or Mr. fix it types, here are a few things to ponder.
THE URGE TO FIX THINGS CAN BE OVERPOWERING — It is as if the urge is hard-wired into many of us. Fixing things is part of how we identify ourselves, our special gift and talent. We are known for it, we are good at it, fixing things gives us a great sense of fulfillment, and we have a reputation for, and a track record of, success. Unfortunately, as is the case with so many of our great strengths, their overuse is our weakness. For we “fix it types”, it is important to learn where and when to apply our fixing skills and where and when they are not required. Although admittedly a judgment call, at times restraint is often the better option.
BE CERTAIN REGARDING WHAT IS ACTUALLY BROKEN TO BEGIN WITH – Managers are often selected for a specific assignment precisely because there superiors believe an organization or situation requires “a fix” and they have shown a past facility for such a challenge. The danger in these situations lies in your untested assumption that your superiors are correct. Moreover, even in a dysfunctional organization, not everything is ever in need of a fix. Taking the time to learn and assess the situation for yourself is a characteristic of the best managers, and helps them avoid missteps that will eventually require fixing themselves. The key is to apply one’s fixing skills only where they are truly needed.
NOT ALL BROKEN THINGS SHOULD BE FIXED — There are some organizational programs, practices, procedures, and traditions a manager will confront in his or her assignments that broke for good reason: they were no longer relevant, useful, helpful, or supportive of an organization’s goals and objectives. Fixing these things is a waste of time. Replacing them with ways of doing business that are forward-looking and supportive of your organization and customer’s needs is the appropriate task. The skills needed here are foresight, creativity, and innovation not the band aids often applied to fix what is rightly broken.
PERHAPS SOME THINGS SHOULD BE BROKEN — This somewhat unconventional idea was the focus of a fascinating book originally published in 1992 entitled “If it ain’t broke…BREAK IT” authored by Robert J. Kriegel and Louis Patler. Subtitled “and other unconventional wisdom for a changing business world”, Kriegel and Patler advocate that managers unlock the “creative thinker” in themselves to work smarter not harder in meeting the challenges they face. With chapters like – “Dreams Are Goals With Wings”, “Always Mess With Success”, “Playing It Safe Is Dangerous”, “Strange Bedfellows Make Great Partners”, “Mistakes Are A Good Investment”, “Plan On Changing Your Plans”, and “Don’t Compete, Change The game” -- the authors strongly encourage the art of creative distraction as a means to remain at your managerial best. Obviously this approach to managing is quite different from simply fixing remnants from the past.
PEOPLE MUST FIX THEMSELVES — I have saved the notion of “fixing people” for last because it is one of the most common areas where managers venture into dangerous — and usually fruitless — territory. As we all know, yet sometimes forget, people must fix themselves. We do not even know what is best for ourselves at times, let alone know what is best for others. The best managers are always keen to provide advice and counsel that assists others down the path towards solving a problem or meeting a challenge but they assiduously avoid prescribing a solution themselves. While it is difficult to watch somebody else struggle with a problem, listening, understanding, and providing encouragement will generally serve them better than a misguided effort to impose one’s own solution.