Ashleigh go throughA business writer can get all wrapped up in analogy and metaphor and I try to avoid going down that road too far, but the dog-and-tail comparison is too vivid not to exploit. 

In this post I build around the premise that the most important leadership tasks are to establish clear direction for the organization and then to convince staff that going down that path also benefits them individually.

Once you have internalized the systems mindset, you’ll see the-tail-wagging-the-dog syndrome everywhere. It’s rampant in business, families and government.

In this analysis (and in every analysis!) remember these four systems mindset fundamentals…

  1. Each condition of your life right now, good or bad, is the end-product of the process that preceded it
  2. The world is not a place of chaos; it’s a logical collection of individual systems. Examined separately, each makes sense
  3. Seeing and then separating these individual systems delivers enormous personal control
  4. If a step is to be taken, take it NOW

“Get” the above points and you’ll be able to quickly create the life you desire.

Let’s start with this: in a typical business there is the primary goal of delivering a quality product or service to willing buyers, at a profit.  And we could suppose that everyone within the enterprise is steering their individual efforts toward that primary goal. But too often we’d be mistaken. Here’s the usual reality: the owner of the company (the dog) gives one-hundred percent of his/her efforts to the primary goal, while some front-line people (the tail) don’t give a hoot about that as they unconsciously (or consciously) use the organization to pursue their own individual objectives. This independent tail-wagging can destroy a business.

In the less-than-efficient organization, the dog isn’t controlling the tail. Instead, the tail has a mind and strength of its own, enough to grievously affect the dog.

I am not berating front-line people when I say this. They are sometimes frustrated with their work situation and so it follows they may not care about the company’s primary goals. (What’s worse? Management people with random motivations. These people of authority can lead a soft-jihad of independent tail-wagging.)

I could tell you some stories and I’ll bet you could tell me some, too.

True or not, blaming individual employees or making a cultural generalization about a general lack of work ethic are distractions that lead to paralysis. Don’t confuse a symptom with the problem.

Finding “good people” is not a difficult proposition. They’re everywhere. Rather, the root of the problem lies in the business owner’s failure to create internal organizational structures that will allow enthusiasm to flourish. The challenge for the leader is to provide a working environment that encourages everyone to be engaged; to become excited about near-term and future prospects.

Provide these structural conditions for your staff and then sit back and watch what happens:

  1. Pay people to perform in the way you want them to perform. If they do well, reward them generously
  2. Provide concise job descriptions that describe exactly what you want them to do
  3. Give them constant feedback
  4. Put them in the center of the mix by assertively seeking their feedback and then quickly inserting their good recommendations into the organization’s systems
  5. Publish the company’s overall goals as well as a compendium of decision-making guidelines. In Work the System, these are the Strategic Objective and the Operating Principles. (In Work the System, see Appendices A and B).
  6. Standardize the systems of the business. On paper, describe how everything works. These documents are traditionally known as Standard Operating Procedures but I like to call them Working Procedures. (see Appendix C)

Institute the above and your staff will climb-on-board, channeling their energies in the same direction as you, the company owner. The tail will no longer be wagging the dog. Everyone will be wagging together.

And remember, if you’re going to do something, do it Point of Sale.

And so your homework is to ask yourself if your staff’s primary motivators are the same as yours. If not, think about structural system improvements that will motivate them to share your goals and motivations. And yes, sometimes the system improvement is someone’s departure.

Make sure you’re in control of your tail; that it’s properly wagging!

(Appendix G in my book is an essay that barks up this same tree.)

Ten Concepts That Obsess Me Now
Part 1, Point of Sale
Part 2, Critical Thinking Search and Rescue
Part 3, A Business is a Dispassionate Machine
Part 4, Hyper-Efficiency Via Total Inbox
Part 5, Emailed Voice Mail (EVM)
Part 6, Thinking Slow, Moving Fast
Part 7, Deal Killers and the Main Machine
Part 8, The Simple Key to Double Sales and Create Raving Fans
Part 9, The Tail Wagging the Dog Syndrome (This Post)
Part 10, Do You Have Quiet Courage?


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