All organizations need to get stuff done. They need to manufacture things and sell it, serve someone, advocate for legislation and change the world. And as they set out to accomplish these things, the puzzle to be solved becomes: what are the fewest steps, the fewest uses of resources to generate the biggest bang for the buck? And in that solution the churn is born; the obsession with internal processes at the expense of relationships, and even common sense.
The churn creates endless staff meetings going over and over processes and ass coverings. Who is supposed to do what, when and how? How do we avoid making a mistake? Once so much of the organizational energy draws inward, there isn’t enough left to look out at the world. This is why organizations don’t spend any time reflecting on their work or looking farther into the future than the next quarterly budget report. This is why organizations routinely ignore customer satisfaction surveys; it’s too hard to turn the ship internally when the churn is at full steam ahead.
So many bad things happen in the vortex of the churn. The Federal Railroad Administration reviewed the accident on December 1, 2013 wherein four people were killed and over seventy injured when a Metro North train derailed in the Bronx. According to the New York Times, the investigation found that, “Metro-North has emphasized on-time performance to the detriment of safe operations and adequate maintenance of its infrastructure.” Metro-North is enthrall to the churn.
Part of the difficulty of undoing the churn is the misunderstanding of how to use data well. It is easy to collect lots and lots of data, that’s why we are all captive of Big Data right now. But gathering lots of data and answering the right questions are two different things. So, in the case of Metro North, the churn chiefs decided that efficiency trumps everything else, so that’s what they measured most closely, and rewarded in performance.
Figuring out the right measures is a real leadership issue. Putting profitability and efficiency ahead of everything else creates internal pressure to meet those ends. Whereas putting relationships and safety above all else creates a very different kind of internal culture.
Most of all, the churn is a choice, although, sadly, one most organizational leaders don’t realize is their own choice to make.