I’ve been in several situations recently in which a concern expressed by an organization member was immediately interpreted as a problem that needed to be solved. Changes were made to ease the concerns, but the knee-jerk reaction to fix problems that didn’t actually exist adversely affected other people, and that, in turn, caused actual problems.
What I learned rather quickly was that taking a little bit of time to examine what is actually happening (i.e. whether there really *is* a problem) is critical to making good decisions. In both cases above, the “right” decision was to do nothing.
Of course, ignoring squeaky wheels is not ideal, either. So how do we find a balance?
Simply acknowledging that our human instinct is to fix things after they have been reported as broken goes a long way. Zingerman’s founder Ari Weinzweig asks ZingTrain attendees to identify three areas of time spent on “work” each week:
- Time spent working IN your business (day-to-day routine)
- Time spent working ON your business (reviewing and improving processes, designing new training, etc.)
- Time spent working on YOURSELF as a leader (reading, attending seminars, reflecting, etc.)
I’m convinced that spending more time on #2 & #3 helps to not only identify problems before they are reported, but it also offers a larger perspective that allows a team to correctly identify something as problematic (or not).
Why do we only question security practices on airlines when something goes terribly wrong? Why do we wait to install traffic lights or stop signs until one or two deaths have been reported at that very intersection? Why do 16-year olds start classes at 7:50 in the morning when all the scientific research tell us it’s wasted time (possibly even harmful to development)?
Recently at a local restaurant here in Chelsea, our waiter came to the table and said that our food was delayed because one of the batches of homemade pasta used to prepare the dish was not up to the standards of the chef. They refused to serve something that was just “good”. Moments later, the entire meal arrived. It was fabulous. His remarks did two things: explain (proactively) that there was a delay and they knew it; identify a problem before it was a problem.
I have never reached out to a customer with an honest explanation and regretted it. In fact, it typically leads to more business and happier customers.