Approach to understand the problem

To find the critical factor by straight analysis of the problems is not always easy. Often two subsidiary approaches have to be used. Both are applications of a principle developed by the classical physicists of the eighteenth century to isolate the critical factor: the principle of virtual motion. One approach assumes that nothing whatever will change or over and asks: What will then happen in time? The other approach projects and asks: What that could have been done or left undone at the time this problem first appeared would have materially affected the present situation?

One example of the use of these two approaches is the case of a chemical company that faced the need to replace the executive vice president who had died suddenly. Everybody agreed that the dead man had the company; but everybody agreed also that he had been a bully and a tyrant and had driven out of the company all independent people. Consequently the problem, as management saw it seemed to be that of deciding between not filling the job at all or filling it with that strong man. But if the first were done who would run the company? If the second would there not be another tyrant?

The question of what would happen it nothing were done revealed both that the problem was to give the company a top management, and that action had to be taken. Without action the company would be left without top management. And sooner or later – probably sooner – it would decline and disintegrate.

The question of what could have been done ten years ago then brought out what the executive Vice President, his function and his personality were not the problem at all. The problem was that the company had a president in name but not in fact. While the executive vice president had had to make all the decisions take full responsibility, final authority and its symbols were still vested in a president who guarded his rights jealously, though he had abdicated in effect. Everything that could have been done ten years earlier to secure to the company the benefit of the dead man’s strengths and safeguard it against his weaknesses would have required clear establishment of the man’s authority and responsibility as the top man. Then constitutional safeguards – team organization of the top job; assignment of the objective formulating part of the job to the vice presidents operating as a planning committee, or federal decentralization of product businesses – could have been provided. This analysis thus revealed that removal of the president was the first thing that had to be done and once that was done the problem could be solved.

The second step in the definition of the problem to determine the conditions for its solution.

The objectives for the solution must be thought through.

In replacing the deceased executive vice president the objectives for the solution of the problem were fairly obvious. It had to give the company an effective top management. It had to prevent a recurrence of one man tyranny. And it had to prevent the recurrence of a leaderless interregnum’ it had to provided tomorrow’s top managers.

The first objective ruled out the solution most favored by some of the vice presidents: an informal committee of functional vice presidents working loosely with the nominal president. The second ruled out the solution favored by the Board chairman: recruitment of a successor to the executive vice president. The third objective demanded that, whatever the organization of top management, federally decentralized product businesses had to be created to train and test future top managers.

The objectives should always reflect the objectives of the business, should always be focused ultimately on business performance and business results. They should always balance and harmonize the immediate and the long range future. They should always take into account, the business as a whole and the activities needed to run it.

At the time the rules that limit the solution must be thought through. What are the principles, policies and rules of product that have to be followed? It may be a rule of the company never to borrow more than half its capital needs. It may be principle never to hire a man from the outside first considering all inside managers carefully. It may be considered as requirements of good manager development not to create crown princes in the organization. It may be established policy that designs changes must be submitted to manufacturing, and marketing before being put into effect by the engineering departments.

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  • sarath

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