Leading a company in these crazy economic times is like riding a roller coaster complete with exhilarating highs and hang-on-for-your-life lows. There are even moments when you realize that there are things going on in your company that are out of your control. The larger your company, the more moving parts it has that can break down, shut down or spin out of control. Those moving parts that don’t function according to plan are called problems. And the dirty little secret about problems is that they never cooperate or help you out by fixing themselves.
Problems come in all shapes and sizes from simple quick fixes to nuclear meltdowns. They can be caused by mechanical failure, human error, or both. They can be caused by cash-flow challenges, disgruntled or indifferent employees, poor information flow, lack of inspiration and by leaders that have disengaged and checked out. Outside sources, like competitors, market conditions, and bad weather, can also throw a wrench into your operations. The simple truth is that problems are like viruses – once they attach themselves to some part of your company, they spread like wildfire.
Here are some no-compromise strategies to fix and keep problems from consuming your company:
- Problems are actually symptoms: In most cases, the problem you’re looking at is actually downrange from the cause. You can’t fix a problem without understanding the cause. You need to follow the breadcrumbs until you find and understand the cause. For example, a cash-flow crisis may not be caused by weak sales. The culprit may be a bloated payroll, and inadequate pricing structure, or unchecked spending. That difficult employee that’s driving you nuts may be caused by that commitment you didn’t follow through on. Treat the cause – not the symptom.
- Own what you create: Banish the word “they” from your vocabulary. (A Neilism: “They” isn’t on the payroll.) Using “they” is a way to place blame. The no-compromise leader always owns what he or she created. “They” didn’t cause the cash-flow crisis – they pay system you designed caused it. “They” didn’t perform below expectation if you never clarified what the expectations are and the plan to achieve them. Own what you create and you will regain trust and integrity as the company leader.
- Problems vs. dilemmas: There are times when the breadcrumbs lead you not to the cause of the problem but to a fork in the road. A problem has a rather straight forward solution. A dilemma has options – none of which are straight forward solutions, risk free, or overly pleasant. You can fast track a problem. You cannot fast track a dilemma. But you can’t ignore a dilemma either. You need to respect and understand its complexity in order to find a plausible solution. You will still have to cross your fingers.
- Huddle up: There is power in collective thinking and problem solving – as long as it’s controlled and results oriented. I’m a big fan of having a small team of two to five people drill down on a problem until they find a solution. Give a small team 45 to 60 minutes to brainstorm a problem and present their best solution. Chances are, they’ll find the solution or come pretty darn close. If you gave them a few days or a week, they’ll pretty much end up doing the same concentrated power thinking in the last hour or so. Give it a try and see for yourself.
- Make a decision: Don’t obsess over the possible solutions. The longer you procrastinate on a decision, the bigger the problem becomes. Warning: If you wait too long and the problem gets worse, that solution may no longer have the horsepower to fix the problem. And don’t go for the easiest one just because it won’t rock the boat that much. If the solution needs the boat to rock – then rock the boat. No compromise.
- Execute and make it stick: Implement the solution by getting all of those responsible for carrying out the solution fully informed on the process and what needs to happen. The last thing you want is to have the fix create a new problem. Information flow, accountability and follow through is critical. Establish check points to monitor progress. Ask for daily recaps on progress. Always ask, “Is any one stuck?” Better to know someone is stuck early in the game then weeks later. Making solutions stick is the work of leadership. It’s done by paying attention and staying engaged. No compromise.
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