Stuff happens! Though some have put it much more graphically, I’ll just leave it at that. Problems are part and parcel with both life and business. It is not if, but when. So then, when something goes wrong in business, since it most assuredly will, what should we do?
Yes, of course you must get right on it, communicating well with those involved or impacted, doing your very best to mitigate any damages and relieve any pain you’ve caused the customer. Yes, that much is certain. Furthermore, you must own the problem and absorb the negative impact organizationally, protect the customer and give him some sort of peace offering. True enough! But aside from the boringly obvious, what else?
Well, you could discover the hidden opportunity and value that each problem possesses. The wise business person realizes that organizational problems identify organizational weakness. Problems bring weakness to light and provide us a unique opportunity to strengthen and improve our organizations.
So, you can take the typical approach and deal with problems superficially, bandaging up the situation and quickly moving on, but if you do, it’s only a matter of time until your last problem re-surfaces.
Sounds like a vicious, never-ending cycle doesn’t it? It is. But, there is a better way.
Recently I attended an Apple iPhone 4S training session. Siri, the artificial intelligence software, the voice activated personal assistant, was one of the features discussed. Siri is really cool, but its first generation technology was imperfect. I learned something very interesting: When Siri struggles with a command, that information is automatically communicated to a team at Apple assigned to prioritize such problems and solve them. Talk about smart business! That kind of thinking has made Apple a huge success. Think of it: The customer is inadvertently telling Apple what needs improved by discovering weaknesses. Apple collects that information and takes prompt action solving such problems, improving Siri and customer satisfaction.
Look at your problems as lessons to be learned. They are your best teacher if you are a willing pupil. Study them. Discover precisely what went wrong, where the failure (or series of failures) occurred and what or who needs changed. Make such changes and come out of each failure a better organization. The downside of problems is inevitable. But learning from them and experiencing the upside potential is optional. It’s up to us.
Slow is fast and fast is slow.
Get to the root cause of failure, even though it takes time. It’s time well spent and doing so will ultimately save time. Though you may feel that you don’t have time to be painstakingly thorough to solve and eliminate problems, the truth is you don’t have time not to. It actually takes longer in the long-run to fail to take the time in the present. Slow is fast and fast is slow. Slow yourself down, take the time to fact-find and completely solve problems. You’ll have fewer problems in the future and more time to prevent other problems. Slow is fast and fast is slow.
Don’t make the mistake of jumping from fire to fire, leaving hot spots still smoldering and ready to quickly ignite once conditions are right. Put the fire completely out and get into the fire (problem) prevention mode.
Did you know that firefighters only spend 3 percent of their time actually fighting fires and 97 percent of their time preventing them? Reverse those percentages and imagine the catastrophe.
Don’t allow yourself to be held hostage by a never-ending barrage of unsolved problems. Take a relentless approach at eliminating your problems. Get yourself out of the thick of thin things!
To paraphrase Einstein, the definition of insanity is to keep doing things the same way and expect different results. If that’s true—and it is, we have a lot of mental illness in management! Get a clue. If something fails, something needs to be changed.
Each problem has a solution. If you persevere and don’t shortchange yourself, you’ll find those solutions. Once you understand a problem, it will be evident what to do. The only thing left is the doing. Change something!
Let’s say management or personnel has failed for the third time to keep clearly defined and communicated SOP (Standard Operating Procedure). Change them! If, on the other hand, you discover a failure occurred simply because someone hasn’t been completely trained and expectations haven’t been clearly defined and communicated, develop a system to avoid that, implement it and start with them. Change something!
When problems occur and we don’t do enough to completely eliminate them, you can expect numerous similar future failures. Problems will continue to self perpetuate and worsen. Your problems are opportunities to learn, change and improve your business. But one thing is absolutely certain: If nothing changes, nothing changes!
Doug Bellamy is president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif., where he is known for his proactive, innovative approach to our changing industry, and use of modern technology and cutting edge products and services.