Working Effectively in a Dysfunctional Organization

Beverly Flaxington

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

I work at a very large financial services company. There are many of us in sales. Even though we are supposed to be selling different investments into different markets, I keep running into my own internal colleagues as competitors. I’ve complained to my boss, and he says they know and are “working on it.” I have been extremely successful everywhere else I have been, and I joined this firm two years ago because they have a great name and the products are solid. I am stunned at how the image of this company is so good, but the internal machinations are abysmal. Is it possible for me to succeed here? I can’t go to my boss’ boss because that would be political suicide. Do I jump ship now and say it was a bad decision when asked why I am leaving so soon? I am stuck.


Dear D.A.,

I wish there were a way to do an audible “sigh” when responding to inquiries like this. Suffice it to say that I have seen this type of situation play out many times. The amount of energy wasted should seem so costly to an organization that they would want to fix it, but it just doesn’t seem to be enough of a pain for the people at the top to put an effective system in place. That said, I’ve been in C-level and Senior Sales Management roles and moving a big ship is easier said than done, even when you know something is broken.

So your question is about you. Should you hang in there? Should you jump ship? Without a conversation on pros and cons, I can’t legitimately answer that. I would never give someone career advice that might be harmful. Instead, I will recommend a process I created and trademarked whenever someone is struggling to meet a goal or overcome an obstacle. It’s called the SHIFT Model®. You can go through the following steps, and hopefully you will have your own realization about what to do next.

  1. Specify your desired outcome. Your personal outcome can’t be “the powers-to-be see the light and make the important changes, and my life improves.” It has to be a qualitative and quantitative combination. It could be about your working conditions, how much you sell or interactions with others. The first step is to get clear about what you do want. The more time you take to clarify the outcome that you want, the more clarity you may find about whether you can reach your desired outcome in that role and in that firm.
  1. Highlight your obstacles and categorize them. List all of the things preventing you right now from reaching this desired outcome. What’s in the way? Again, the more specific you can be, the better. After you list the obstacles, categorize them. What can you control? What can you influence? What’s out of your control? Be dogged about the obstacles out of your control. Put a big X through them. You can’t do anything about them.
  1. Identify your human factor. I have seen enough dysfunction in organizations to know that what you’ve written isn’t all about you, but there is always some role each of us plays in our own unhappiness or lack of effectiveness. What strengths do you bring? What are your weaknesses? What could you be doing differently? Identify your stakeholders too. Is there anyone else you could work closely with to bring about change?
  1. Find your alternatives. Reviewing what you have done so far, what choices remain? What options might work right now? What criteria do you have for deciding what to do?
  1. Take the disciplined action necessary to move forward. Right now you are – admittedly – stuck. What steps can you take to move to a different situation either internally or externally?

You can learn more about this process and how to apply it at, but hopefully I’ve outlined enough here to give you a path forward.