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The Importance of Identifying Relational Issues

The Thing in the Bushes is a book about corporate blind spots. Authors Kevin Graham Ford and James D. Osterhaus point out that most leaders of companies or other organizations know "something is seriously wrong, but they can't see it. Something unidentified and insidious is lurking in the shadows like a 'thing in the bushes,' and it has the organization in a death grip." Through careful research, Ford and Osterhaus have discovered that most of the issues hiding in the bushes are relational issues carefully disguised by surface issues. Consider this story they share in one of the chapters:

The people down in the Human Resources department of a government contractor complained that their offices were too cold. They began to wear heavy sweaters and bring portable heaters to work. Management heard their complaints and spent a great deal of money rearranging heating ducts to channel more heat to HR. No sooner was the ductwork completed than the HR people began complaining about something new: too much dust coming from the vents. …
[Our management consulting team] happened to be in the building, conducting an organizational assessment, when this problem came to light. We wondered if the lack of warmth down in HR was a literal problem involving thermostats and ductwork and a furnace—or if it was a metaphor describing a very different kind of problem—a relational problem.
What were the people in HR really trying to say? People often use metaphors without consciously realizing it. Sometimes they convey through metaphoric language what they find too threatening or uncomfortable to say directly. What if people in HR are talking about the cold treatment they get from other parts of the organization? we wondered.
We went down to HR, posed this possibility to the people there—and they immediately seized upon the idea as totally valid. The company quit trying to change the ductwork in HR. Instead, they changed the lines of communication, the lines of caring and interaction between HR and the rest of the company. From then on, there were no more complaints from HR about the lack of warmth.

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