Recognizing problems early can save a lot of work later on down the road. Some people can see a problem miles away and some people have to wait until the problem arises. I guess some people are skilled at preparation and others are skilled responders.
I always like to be prepared for problems before they occur. A few nights ago I heard a commander for a special operations naval team explaining that there were two words that always spelled failure for a mission, “too late.” Sometimes you have to see the signs and fix things before it’s too late.
Early Signs of Trouble
I remember when I tutored psychology during college. Psychology is different from most subjects because most people feel they know psychology. People think they know people and thus, they know psychology. While my friends tutoring foreign languages and mathematics were loaded with students to tutor, I would not have any work to do. By the time the first tests in the psychology courses were given, I would start getting students needing to be tutored. It was after their first grade that they began to worry that they didn’t know what they thought they knew about psychology. This reminds me of how some of us are when we have workplace issues that go ignored until the signs are blatant.
The Frog in the Pot
There is a story that business consultants sometimes tell referring to the frog in the pot. The story gives an example of how organizations can go so out of control and no one makes any changes until it’s too late. The story states that in order to cook a frog, you never want to place the frog in a pot of boiling water. When the frog is placed in the pot, it will feel the heat and hop right out. The way to cook the frog is to place the frog in warm water and slowly increase the temperature of the water. The water will be warming and the frog will be happy in the pot. The nice warm water will eventually put the frog to sleep. By the time the water is boiling, the frog is too far asleep to hop out and it gets cooked.
This is like a lot of businesses that go through troubles. The problems are small and no one really notices them. They build up over time, but business goes on as usual. Nothing super severe happens to halt progress, so life goes on. Eventually, the problems have built to the point that it is really too late to correct the problems.
Four Tips for Identifying Problems Early
A couple of weeks ago I discussed fixing issues while they were still small. But I got a lot of feedback from people who said, “Hey, what if we don’t even know about the problem?” This got me thinking that there are probably a lot of frogs out there in warm water and the heat is turning up, yet they don’t even realize it. Here are a few tips to get you out of the boiling pot and back to safety:
#1. Don’t overlook the small things; address them. I don’t necessarily mean everything needs to be totally dealt with severely, but at least be ‘hands on’ in your day to day handling of the work process. If someone is missing work, find out why. If someone is being difficult, speak with him or her. If training is lacking, make time for training.
#2. Make the most of business meetings. Make them action based and focused. Meetings are the best way to learn what is going on throughout the business. When people are uninformed during the meetings, find out why. Where are the communication breakdowns? Who is working well with the team and who seems upset with things? There are too many disasters that could have been avoided had someone listened to people who saw the problems ahead of time during meetings.
#3. Identify the underlying issues causing the problems. These may not be obvious to us for whatever reason, so it is important to ask questions and find answers. If your employee turnover is becoming a problem, find out why. Are you performing exit interviews? Are employees being treated well? Are they trained to perform their jobs? I recall a business where the turnover rate was very troublesome. After talking to some employees, it so happens the job was recently changed to include more computer use. There was no additional training provided for using a computer and many of the older employees quit due to anxiety or fear of the new responsibilities of the job. Of course the management team was totally unaware of the real problem and some basic computer training solved their issues.
#4. Get a routine checkup from an outside source. Having a consultant to look over your human resources practices, training, selection, etc from time to time may help you to get in front of potential problems. Sometimes we all get so used to how things are done that we can’t see the problems unless they are brought to our attention. If hiring someone to look over things is out of the picture for you, try looking at how (and more importantly, why) other people in your business are doing things and the ways it could help you improve your own business operations.
Be a Problem Solver
As you practice discovering potential issues before they get started, you’ll find it becomes easier and you’ll start becoming a better manager. Before you know it, you’ll be seeking the underlying issues causing your problems and making corrections. You won’t be afraid to get another set of eyes on your operation because you know your business is worth it. Try these tips out and please don’t harm any frogs this week. If you found this information helpful, I appreciate you sharing with your colleagues and friends and I’ll hope to see you back next time.
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