Leaders don’t like problems in their organizations, they want them to be pure and defect free. They want them producing at high levels and performing like a well tuned machine. If problems do arise, they expect them to be discovered quickly and fixed right away. If they aren’t, they get frustrated and take it out on their staff. Phrases like: “Bill should have seen this problem months ago. Doesn’t he know what is going on in his group?” “This problem should have been fixed a long time ago. Why didn’t Karen jump on it sooner and fix it?” can be heard coming out of leader’s offices.
This situation happens over and over in organizations. And why? Because of a simple truth: No problem can be solved before its time. Problems hide away until it is time for them to be noticed. No matter how vigilant we are, there are problems in our organizations that have yet to be discovered, yet business goes on. When problems are identified some of them do so quickly and are fixed right away. Others, however, show themselves slowly over weeks, month, or years. Solving them can take just as long. In these situations problems need the environment to change before they can be discovered and fixed. It may be that the business has to shift focus for them to become a high enough priority, a new employee may need to be hired with a right skill set, or advancements in technology have to become available and implemented.
For years at Systemation, we have been struggling with entering contact data for workshop participants and getting completion certificates to them in a timely manner. It seems like a simple process however, it had been a quality and timeliness issue for years. The evaluations we received from participants were hard to read due to varying handwriting abilities. The person responsible for data entry had other responsibilities that were becoming much more demanding. Lastly, completion certificates often did not reach the participants because of internal company mail and distribution problems.
A few months ago the problem reached the right time to be resolved in full. Soon trainers will be traveling with iPads and having workshop participants entering their name and email address into them. After the workshop is completed the data is sent to our internal systems that generate an email to each participant, allowing them to go online and evaluate the workshop. After submitting the evaluation the participant receives a PDF of their completion certificate. Problem fixed, but not before its time.
What does this mean for your organization? First you have to shift your focus away from how many problems you have to how much better you are becoming every time one gets identified and fixed. Otherwise you will drive yourself crazy and put those around you in a constant state of fear. Shifting focus moves the organization away from identifying blame and towards rewarding others for helping the organization get better. It will make a huge difference in the way your staff handles problems. I’m not saying to be less investigative; I’m saying become a little more accepting of the problem identification and resolution process. It’s like a fine wine. No problem can be solved before its time.