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by Travis Marsh

Creating lasting organizational change that deals with both shallow and deep challenges. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a leader, a startup founder, or somebody trying to think about scaling or improving their particular area of a company. You know that, as with most things in business, if you want to be better than you are today, you need to grow yourself and your team. You’re aware that growth at the team level is challenging and requires doing things differently from what you’re currently doing.

When transitioning to a new way of working, it’s incredibly important to think about two levels for that transition to be effective. Consider asking yourself:

  1. What’s the deeper reason or challenge that I’m trying to address?

  2. What’s the shallow challenge that I can see and navigate?

Shallow challenges are things that are often – not always, but often – easy to measure.

They are tied to business results and are usually linked to profit and loss. They’re typically more straightforward to measure than the deeper reasons or challenges.

Here are a few examples of shallow challenges:

  • We could serve our stakeholders better if we could acquire new customers faster and more affordably.

  • We need to meet our customers’ needs faster and at a lower cost.

  • I want to work less in the operations and be less beholden to every decision.

  • We need to make better decisions faster.

Shallow challenges are often the only things that ever get talked about in traditional businesses. If you focus purely on this level of challenge, you can do good things in the short term and rot out the business’s core in the long term. This approach is the hallmark of traditional capitalism.

A company run purely by the numbers in the short term, ignoring other factors that are hard to measure will run into predictable problems in the long term. In the extreme, the business may stop caring about negative externalities as long as one stakeholder, typically shareholder’s value is going up. For instance, when YouTube optimizes viewing time, one way to get there is to show people an abundance of radical content. That creates higher viewing times but also enables disinformation to spread farther more rapidly than ever before.

On the other hand, deeper reasons are often harder to measure to know if you’re making a difference.

They’re much more about the felt sense or the long-term potential. They build capacity in the organization to deal with change, and they reduce the chance of turnover.

This is the land of culture, mission, and values. Some examples of deeper reasons include:

  • I want to have fun when I come to work.

  • Everyone on the team deserves personal development and job satisfaction.

  • I’d like us to have a culture of care, compassion, and challenge.

  • I want us to be in this for the long haul, playing the infinite game and not just a finite game.

If you focus on the deeper reasons without linking them to the shallow challenges, you run the risk of going to the esoteric. The most common output of vision, mission, and values discussions is that you can spend lots of time in this area and never know if you’re making meaningful progress. People go in, have good conversations, feel excited, and then the following week, few if any can remember the output.

However, if you link your shallow challenges to your deeper challenges you can unlock three benefits:

  1. You’ll be able to start working on something concrete.

  2. You’ll be able to tell if you’re making meaningful progress.

  3. You’ll be able to enlist the skeptics in the organization if and when the results show things are working.

If you’re looking for specific areas to improve, here are a few areas I see most businesses struggle:

  • Regular honest & direct feedback, both positive & constructive

  • Effectively dealing with interpersonal tensions

  • Effective meetings

  • Clarifying decision-making processes and sticking to them

  • Clarifying roles & responsibilities

As you wrap up reading this post, consider asking yourself:

What’s the deeper change I want to make, and what’s a shallow problem that’s related?

If you’d like more information on how to scale your business in a bold and intentional way, be sure to get your copy of Lead Together.

Photo by Jonas Allert on Unsplash

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