If It’s Broken, Let Them Fix It Themselves

Do you like a challenge? Where other people see a mess of pieces, do you see a puzzle that needs to be sorted out and put back together?

If so, you are probably the type of person who likes working for companies that are broken. Processes that don’t work, goals that aren’t being met,or a toxic work environment — name the problem and you want to fix it. It’s the challenge and excitement that comes from taking something broken and turning it around. More than any paycheck, that is what really motivates you to work hard.

Companies always say they want this type of employee — one who can come in and make a difference. And why not? No matter how well run a company is, there is always something broken or something that can be done better. There are a lot of nails sticking up out there and look, you have a hammer.

Sounds promising, right? All you have to do is find those “nails” and start pounding away. Career and company success is assured! You should already know nothing is that simple. Why? I’ve seen the greatest minds of my generation destroyed by the madness of their own company’s apathy. It’s tragic really. And a little emo. But that is beside the point.

Does this describe your company?

  • There is no planning, there is only crisis.
  • Blame is easier to find than accountability.
  • Feedback, even when solicited, often falls of deaf ears.
  • Employees have to go through several layers of approval for even the simplest decisions.
  • The only ones with the authority to make changes don’t think anything needs to be changed.
  • The only “process” employees follow is the work-around they have created in order to actually get things done.

Companies like this aren’t really interested in employees finding or fixing anything at all; all they want is for employees to maintain the status quo, even if that status quo is broken. Companies saying they want one thing in an employee when they really want another? Sounds like a frustrating mess to me.  But hey, it’s surprising how many companies can be successful in spite of themselves.

Well, only for a little while.

Successful companies need problem solvers. Problem solvers need challenges they have a chance of successfully overcoming, not ones that are doomed from the start. When they realize how the company really operates they will move on and maybe some day they’ll be back … as consultants.

Photo credit iStockphoto

About the Author

Shauna Moerke

Shauna is an HR professional with a diverse work history, a Master's degree, and a PHR certification. She is also a huge geek, social media advocate, and infectious giggler. Besides being a co-founder of the Women of HR she also serves as the current Ringmistress of the Carnival of HR, is the former co-host of the HR Happy Hour blogtalk radio show, and blogs at her own site as the HR Minion.


Shauna Moerke

Kelly – I hate the thought of someone giving up to that kind of culture, I think it hurts them later when they leave because they forget their drive and passion. I would rather people get out before they lose it then be crushed under the dysfunction.

Karen – Definitely a desire to avoid blame is a big driver of the behavior, which is frustrating in and of itself.

Kelly O

I’ve also found that many of those companies really don’t want to fix things. Or they want everyone else to change, and don’t see any way that they personally may have a hand in any dysfunction or brokenness.

There will be great complaining about “am I the only one who comes up with ideas around here?” when there are lots of potentially good ideas floating around, but it’s not what the powers that be want to hear, so they get ignored or told that’s not “who we are now” or something like that.

It perpetuates the cycle. Eventually the people with the good ideas will get tired of being stifled, ignored, or told they’re not thinking the right way – don’t get me wrong, they’ll try a long time in many cases, but at some point everyone will either find another organization and take their talent elsewhere or they’ll just stop trying. From a greater organizational perspective, giving up is so much worse.

Karen E. Lund

I’ve worked for companies like that–and I’ve known people who are like that in their personal lives. Often they overlap; people who say they want change but won’t take action are comfortable working in companies that are the same. The rest of us leave in frustration.

A trait I’ve noticed in the of managers of such companies is the desire to avoid blame. Not fix the problem–that would be too much effort–just make sure they don’t get blamed for what’s broken. (You probably know it as “CYA.”) Deep down they know something’s wrong. They know that somehow they’re part of the problem or could be part of the solution. They only want to be sure that when blame is handed out (easier, as you say, than accountability) it doesn’t land on them.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *