The Root Cause

Rethink Your Approach To Solving Stubborn Enterprise-Wide Problems
obstacle to leadership - CEO Adventure Book

You Cannot Lead What You Don’t Understand

Back in 2010, IBM conducted face-to-face interviews with 1,541 CEOs, general managers and senior public sector leaders from around the world. Seventy-nine percent of all participants said they were anticipating a rapid escalation in their business’s levels of complexity―in addition to uncertainty and volatility. More than half of these leaders doubted their own ability to manage complexity.

Complexity is the result of high levels of interconnection and interdependency among the many highly automated business processes and –functions, and equipment, which are facilitated―more often than not―by advanced (information) technology. Experiencing doubt regarding their ability to manage complexity, these leaders expressed fear of imminent systems-level failures as well.

DID YOU KNOW that . . . :

  • Seventy-five to ninety-six percent of ALL incidents―i.e. all accidents and near-misses―are caused by a failing business system?
  • Systemic refers to a business system’s design, construction, implementation, maintenance, and management. Hence, business systems with a small amount of variation in their work processes create more intended and wanted results―i.e. results that are more uniform―than systems with large amounts of variation.
  • Ninety-four percent of ALL business results―i.e. all (un)intended and (un)wanted outcomes―are systemic in nature?
  • Suggesting that people could out-perform a system’s inherent capability and capacity, provided they are given the “right” leadership, motivation, carrot or stick, is foolish?



Business performance depends directly on the extent to which a business system’s capability and capacity aligns with the purpose for which the system was created―form follows function. Moreover, misalignment causes friction and conflict―systemic problems. These unintended and unwanted results appear in many guises such as a lack of employee engagement, high employee turn-over, mistakes, waste, customer complaints, and warranty claims. In short, friction and conflict reduce operational effectiveness and –efficiency, which undermine profitability.

It is not uncommon for CEOs who are befuddled and bewildered by complexity to believe that systemic problems are without solution. This explains why systemic problems are allowed to linger, persist, and recur―why they never get solved!


Anticipated Outcome offers workshops with the objective of creating understanding of business systems, fostering critical thinking, and developing critical change management skills. The curriculum is based on Hans Norden’s upcoming book The Root Cause: Rethink Your Approach to Solving Stubborn Enterprise-Wide Problems.

The Root Cause is written for the express purpose of helping CEOs navigate their businesses through periods of change. Change can either be the disruption of system integrity caused by systemic problems, or implementation of a change management initiative such as solving systemic problems or choosing a new strategic direction.

Norden chose for his book the perspective of a CEO because change requires executive sponsorship for change―allocation of necessary resources and delegation of authority. CEOs who doubt their ability to manage change also doubt the need for their sponsorship for change. However, nothing changes without it!

No CEO can find, create, assess, or defend the validity of a proposed solution to a systemic problem without conducting a root cause analysis first. And, they cannot conduct root cause analyses when they cannot explain how the business works in terms of process. Therefore, their CEO EffectivenessTM is compromised when they are confronted with systemic problems and the need for change is imminent.

The only realistic remedy for boosting CEO Effectiveness is to create insight into the functioning of a business as a singular, unique, integrated, and open system. This requires understanding of business on the level of its critical processes.
You may ask, why? Well, because a systemic problem is defined as a discrepancy between the current state of a business system and its desired state. When you don’t know one of the two states, let alone neither of them, you have a REAL problem on your hands! Unfortunately, that’s where too many leaders find themselves today. But, I can help them.

Email me with your questions or to book a workshop.


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