Solution Saturday: Help We’re Stuck and Sinking

Dear Dan,

Our organization is stuck. We’re losing energy and declining.

What suggestions do you have for getting unstuck?


Nervous about the future

Dear Nervous,

Thanks for your question. Apart from intervention, everything grinds into oblivion. You’re right to be concerned.

#1. Evaluate direction.

Are you protecting the past or building the future?

Protecting the past is a slow spiral into irrelevance. I suppose the exception to this rule is running a museum. But even if you run a museum, business is driven by changing customer preferences.

Continue reading this post if you’re a future builder. Buckle in for a slow ride to oblivion if you’re protecting the past.

#2. Clarify purpose and goals.

Getting stuck may be the result of unclear goals.

What are you trying to accomplish? Dig deeper than making a profit. Go beyond the goal of growing your business.

  1. How are you improving the lives of those you serve?
  2. Distill goals into behaviors.
  3. What have you been doing to reach your goals? After you clarify purpose, you may discover that you haven’t been doing much to reach your goals.

Any problem that can be distilled into behaviors can be solved.

#3. Don’t demonize customers.

One of my clients is in retail. He notices that customers are growing less patient. It’s not useful to complain that customers are impatient. It is useful to adapt.

Serving includes adapting while holding to purpose and values.

#4. Identify wasted energy.

The universal component of leadership is energy. Where are you pouring energy into projects, programs, and systems with little or no results?

Recurring disappointment indicates need for evaluation. Follow evaluation with tough conversations. Someone has to yell fire before the house burns down.

#5. Sincerity isn’t the issue.

Your team sincerely wants to succeed. Respect effort and confront reality at the same time. Don’t insult teams that are working hard and falling short. The issue is strategy, not sincerity.

Where does it feel like you’re pushing a rope?

#6. Redirect energy toward new behaviors and strategies.

Stop trusting in strategies that worked in the past but don’t work today. Strategies and products become obsolete as time passes.

Try something you haven’t tried. When you’re stuck, do the best thing that comes to mind.

You won’t be certain new strategies will work. Choose any course as long as you’re reasonably certain it won’t make matters worse.

#7. Reject all or nothing thinking.

If you try to fix everything, you’ll end up fixing nothing. Try things. Fail fast – fail cheap – learn and grow.

Evaluate the past with the same rigor you evaluate new ideas.

Many groups accept past behaviors as if they are all good and approach new ideas as if they are all bad. Get your team complaining about new strategies and then turn their attention to past strategies.

Your past is your future unless you courageously identify failure.

#8. Invite the outside in.

The same people sitting around the same table produce the same results.

New relationships change us. Invite customers, other divisions, and other organizational leaders to sit at the table with you.

#9. Create a crisis.

Perhaps there’s lack of resolve or a shortage of will to make change. Address this concern by setting a deadline. “If we don’t make progress in six months, let’s resolve to change our approach.”

Create a plan and agree to adopt it in six months if things don’t change. When the date arrives, execute the new plan.

There may be kicking and screaming when you reach the deadline. Be kind. Move forward anyway.

#10. Fuel optimism.

Focus on things within your control.

Your team may need to complain about things they can’t change. But turn conversions to things you CAN change.

You have my best,


What helps organizations get unstuck?

*This question was asked after a recent presentation.

**I relax my 300 word limit on weekends.