How can you tell how well an organization is doing?

You’ve been brought in to suss out the state of this organization. You don’t have a notepad, a checklist, or a PowerPoint. You don’t conduct any interviews or have any employees fill out long, awful surveys. Silently, you walk around, wander here and there, then come back. ‘I’d like to tell you a story,’ you begin,

about how you can tell how good a home is. Cobwebs and flies will tell you nothing; nor will marks on the wall, grime on the pans, or dust on the speakers; nor will small cracks here and there or worn sliding doors. The towels are missing–so what? The opulent fountain has stopped working–what of that? Things are generally in a state of disarray–no matter. All these can be rectified, replaced, or forgotten about. Pay closer attention. If the sink still works but the drain has been jerry-rigged to keep the water flowing down it, then you’ve got a big problem.

The lesson: don’t look at the things that are obsolete; don’t look at the broken things that remain broken; don’t look at the Out of Order signs; don’t bother with well-functioning things that seem a bit careworn. If you want to know how well an organization is doing, then put your focus on the commonly used things that go unfixed but are jerry-rigged. I’m thinking about the in-between important stuff, the stuff that has neither come into being nor gone out of being. Think of the refrigerator whose freezer contains blocks of ice to keep items cool; the parking lot lights that flicker about; the sticking door to the roof upon which each employee spends his lunch hour; the computers that have all sorts of technical patches so that you have to do things the long way every time.

If an organization doesn’t have the money (or is too miserly) to properly fix the things its employees need and regularly use in order to go about their days without a hitch, then the organization is facing a disaster, the ramifications of which will become clearer only after the place crumbles or the employees start to grumble more loudly.