Is your business facing a massive "change the world for the better" kind of challenge? If you've set your goals high as Minda Zetlin suggests in this article, then you most certainly are. Is this challenge central to the discussions at work? Maybe not. If you're like too many businesses, leadership and their staff have given up on solving the big problem that created the business need in the first place. Instead, they're focused on a bunch of little details that, ultimately, won't add up to enough change.

No one would ever come right out and say this: "The problem we're trying to solve for our business is too hard. We give up." Yet you see signs of people doing this all around us. In fact, you see entire teams give up. One down and disappointed person at a time throws in the towel. Yes, of course, they're still at work doing something--just not what matters. They've given up on solving the big problems and have resigned themselves to fussing over inconsequential details.

For businesses in situations like these, what are the 7 warning signs that they have given up? If you're seeing these signs in your business, the time is now to refocus on what matters, even if that means tackling the hard problems.

  1. There is no sense of urgency. Assigned action items can wait until tomorrow without any consequence and nothing is accomplished in meetings. Attending meetings is like riding a carousel. You arrive, grab a seat, take turns revolving around the same conversations for a while, and then hop off. You're a little dizzy, but when the world stops spinning, everything is completely the same.
  2. Unwritten rules emerge governing who can talk to who and when. Sometimes described as "just our culture," there are unwritten limits on interactions within the company both up the ladder to leadership and across the organization chart to peers in other divisions. Employees are discouraged from reaching out and engaging with one another without going through their immediate supervisor to ask permission or get their message or request approved.
  3. Internal process improvement efforts dominate the corporate agenda. When a division lead suggests a process improvement for greater efficiency, that's fine. When the CEO picks this up as a signature project, that's not fine. A CEO should be largely outwardly focused while supporting the leadership team internally. When internal problems overtake external challenges--like gaining clients and business--that's a warning sign of larger problems.
  4. Promotions slow or stop all together. When the criteria for promoting staff become so difficult that no one--or a rare few--actually make the cut, staff rightfully wonder what's going on. Arbitrary, tough-to-explain advancement criteria may signal that current leadership isn't sure what it wants in the next generation.
  5. Skepticism for anyone new is unchecked. People are hired into the business, but they face an uphill battle when building relationships and having impact. If new faces and perspectives are even subtly shut out, the fresh ideas they were hired to bring won't bloom.
  6. Performance issues go on and on and on. People and performance management is tough, but organizations have to have processes and human resources support in place to effectively manage it--or risk bringing the entire organization down. When performance issues aren't promptly addressed through coaching or termination, employees question the strength and resolve of the leadership team to protect them and the business's interests.
  7. Employees can't connect their work to the mission. If leadership has been effective in creating a mission, onboarding staff into the culture, and setting clear roles and responsibilities, employees will see their place. If not, their confusion and ambivalence will show through in how they interact with customers, their teammates, and the quality of the business's end products.

The time act is before the situation deteriorates, as Adam Heitzman discusses here. If these warning signs in your workplace, it may signal the time to refocus the business on what matters most--selling your vision for a better world and how to get there.