(Original author unknown)

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead or dying horse, the best strategy is to dismount, and get a new horse. Corporate America and government, however, often choose “modern” or “more sophisticated” strategies over the ageless Dakota wisdom–all with very sad and predictable outcomes. These strategies include:

  • Buying a stronger whip or sharper spurs
  • Changing riders
  • Visiting other organizations to see how others ride dead and dying horses
  • Threatening the horse with termination
  • Appointing a committee to study the horse
  • Rewriting performance requirements so that dead/dying horses can remain (lower standards)
  • Reclassifying the dead/dying horse as “living impaired”
  • Negotiate contract concessions from the Dead Horse Union
  • Hiring outside “experts” to ride the dead/dying horse
  • Harnessing several dead/dying horses together to increase their speed
  • Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead/dying horses’ performance
  • Firing your horse trainer for failing to achieve desired results
  • Doing a three year study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead/dying horse’s performance
  • Declaring that as the dead/dying horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead, and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line than do some other horses
  • Promoting the dead/dying horse to a supervisory position

Assessment. We laugh. But, we also know the sad reality about this metaphor. It is true. Moreover, according to the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), it is costing US companies billions of dollars a year! Far too many organizations try all kinds of costly fads and gimmicks, rather than getting at the underlying drivers of human and organizational performance. One of these “drivers” is to focus on the root cause(s) of poor performance when it occurs.

Reasons for Poor Performance. There are four—and only four–causes of poor performance:

  • Poor personnel selection and/or assignment
  • Bad or inadequate systems, policies, procedures, tools
  • Poor motivation, incentives, and feedback (affective domain)
  • Lack of skill and knowledge

The Bottom Line. In large, complex, diverse organizations, a combination of factors frequently exists that result in poor performance. Performance interventions must be determined by objective root cause analyses (RCA). Then the selected intervention(s) must be designed to specifically address the business and performance goals of the organization. Finally, an objective analysis of results and Return on Investment (ROI) must be conducted, preferably by an external resource. Too often, human variables get in the way of objective analyses.

Call to Action. Contact The Stonewall Group if you would like to discuss organizational performance improvement, but in the meantime, please stop riding dead/dying horses!