The Mechanic in the Organization


In “Organization Development: The Process of Leading Organizational Change” (2010), professor Donald Anderson talks about a model of organizational consulting called “Mechanic Model.” Imagine your car causing you problems (e.g., making a strange noise, surging and stopping, has trouble starting, etc.). So you take it into the nearest car shop (or one you trust) and ask the mechanic to troubleshoot the problem or problems and then fix them. As a consumer relying on the mechanic’s expertise, you don’t care about the technical or detailed explanations of how or why something works or doesn’t work (and you really don’t want to get your hands dirty), you simply want it fixed.

“The mechanic is responsible for figuring out what is wrong and fixing it. If the repair does not successfully solve the problem, the responsibility is the mechanic’s, not ours” (Anderson, 2010, p. 86).

When organizational clients have neither the time nor the patience to deal with problems, they often look for mechanic model solutions. But, Dr. Anderson cautions, this is not a good role for consultants to put themselves in because it’s rarely successful.

Why? Dr. Anderson says that this mechanic model gives consultants such wide latitude and responsibility over both the “problem” and the “solution” to the point that the clients (i.e. the organizations) “relinquish both accountability and responsibility for the problem” (p. 86).

By not getting their hands dirty (i.e., involved), organizations do not recognize their role in the problem and thus fail to gain the “insight into the process of assessing and implementing solutions” (p. 86).

This is a more complex way of saying that they never learn to “fish for themselves” by relying on others.

When I worked overseas consulting to education professionals, I sometimes found myself in this mechanic role. As a young and eager crisis management consultant, I wanted to do all that I could to help the schools, the administrators, educators, and students. However, after several months of repeating, re-teaching, and/or re-implementing strategies I finally realized the limitations of this Mechanic Model mentality.

By being the “go-to guy” or the “specialist,” I inadvertently made the system and employees dependent on an outsider to solve or fix their problems. In psychology, we say this is enabling. It’s a strange predicament to be in because, on the one hand, you want to be recognized for your skills. On the other hand, however, you also want to work to make things better so that when the time comes for you to move on (in my case I relocated back to Dallas to be closer to my elderly parents), the people and organizations are still able to firmly stand on their own without relying on assistance.

Thus, what you want to do is: Work to empower and not to enable.

It took listening, insight, and collaboration with a very capable team of professionals to start the process of empowerment and then later implementing change strategies. I think consultants before me failed to recognize this systemic mindset and found themselves in the mechanic role (just like I initially found myself in).

But the difference between how I eventually succeeded, and others did not, were these things:

  1. Understanding the difference between empowering and enabling.
  2. Believing in those who will take over the helm. Your consulting role is to help people and organizations guide their own ships.
  3. Equipping people with the right tools for their roles within the organization.
  4. Never accepting “I can’t” as an excuse.
  5. Showing people that you care about and respect them.

If I were to pick the top two reasons I believe change occurred, they are: (1) respecting people and taking an interest in their well-being, and (2) giving them the right tools they need to succeed.

Reference

Anderson, D. (2010). Organization Development: The Process of Leading Organizational Change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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