On Managing Lower Back Pain and Organizational Response to Crisis

 Five weeks ago, I was getting dressed to go to a weekly lecture at a History Club which I attend; as I tightened my belt, I strained my lower back. I was totally unable to move for 4 days, and now, five weeks later, I am on my feet and doing most things again, with the pain lessening slowly as time goes by.

This has been a  hard period because despite the fact that I am fit, getting back “up to speed” is so hard, although I have been exercising for decades. The learning process of managing this back pain is no less painful than the back ache itself!

The goal of this short post is to reflect about the process of my learning about managing back pain and organizational response to crisis. This post is meant as a metaphor.

Very quickly I learnt that lower back pain is a mass of symptoms with many (but no clear) cause. There is no real model of what treatment works and what does not. Sometimes walking helps, sometimes walking  hurts; sometimes rest helps, sometimes rest makes things worse. Sometimes it pays off to be mindful of the pain and sometimes it pays off to be distracted.

And symptoms do need to be treated, especially since the problem is nothing but a mass of symptoms. The term “just a symptom” makes no sense in treating back pain. A symptom is not a “just”. The problem has no root cause, but the symptoms are very real.

Treating back pain involves a certain degree of acceptance, a mindset of humility, many eclectic concepts and tools, some rigour and a flexible plan, which changes but does not overly waver. And patience is critical. . (I must admit that I am a very, very impatient person).

Now I look at the way that organizations respond to their pain: diagnosing root cause, changes of structure, engagement plans, new IT based processes, axing people and process clarity. Even when organizations respond with “agility”, they do so rigidly with agile theories and routines.

In organizations, those in charge KNOW what needs to be done. They project clear goals and vision. When things do not work, people/things are blamed because there is a need to prove the “fix it” plan is right.

The essence of my reflection is that while organizations are not individuals and this post is “just a metaphor”, I think that eclecticism, humility,  balancing the  polarity between plan & improvisation have a hell of a lot to bring to the table. And maybe positive changes in organizations come from a lot of little things being adjusted.

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