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|Friday, December 20, 2013|
BY TOM COX | BUSINESS TIPS CONTRIBUTOR
What if being in chaos was optional?
What if crisis, or chaos, or “firefighting,” or feeling behind schedule, behind the press of constantly emerging problems, could be stopped?
It can. It’s simple. It’s not easy. Here are your three steps to stop fighting fires — and getting control, confidence, and clarity.
“Firefighting syndrome” is a chronic problem in American businesses. As Roger Bohn and Ramchandran Jaikumar put it in their 2000 paper “Firefighting by Knowledge Workers,” firms exhibit “firefighting syndrome” when they are chronically doing three or more of these:
I frequently see all six. I also exhibit several.
Here’s how I get myself out of this, and get my clients out — and how you can get out too. The three steps are:
Pareto to the Rescue
Start with the humble log. Seriously. Writing down your crises and fires — as they occur — will take you barely any time, and provides amazing value.
In each case everybody insisted that “there was no pattern” and the crises were all astonishing visitations from higher planes — neither controllable nor truly understandable.
This mindset makes crises become chronic.
In reality, 80% of your crises will be caused by 20% of your causes. (This is the Pareto Principle or the “80-20 Rule” — frequently, 80% of effects are driven by 20% of causes.) You’ll never spot them until you patiently, fire by fire, disaster by disaster, crisis after crisis, log them for later analysis.
A Better Mindset
Your mindset is crucial for overcoming firefighting syndrome.
If you resist logging your fires, you have a mindset that is helping foster firefighting.
The more you believe that fires can neither be predicted nor prevented, the more true you make it — because you will overlook chances to predict and prevent them.
Even if you only have 5% influence on fires, devote 95% focus on your 5% contribution.
And anybody at any level of an organization can keep a log and do some analysis. All it takes is a brain, and a pen and paper.
If it’s worth complaining about, it’s worth logging. The process of logging fires creates emotional distance and gives you the detachment you’ll need for later stages.
Oh, and you cannot, must not, be looking for blame. Blame and shame will create fear — nobody will be willing to be fully candid when they’re afraid.
That’s why the First Rule of Quality is “Drive out fear.” Look only for what went wrong — never for who was wrong.
Log and Analyze
Once you have a log, you can start to analyze.
Why are shipments going out late? Why are projects delayed? Why are our customers returning products? Why are former employees posting negative reviews on glass door?
This is the tedious part of the exercise. For each entry in the log, for each instance of a crisis, take the time to dig in and look for a cause, and the cause behind the cause. Don’t look for patterns yet. Let each entry be unique.
And be transparent. If you’re contributing, admit it.
Find the Pattern
One cause doesn’t make a pattern. Look for groups of causes that are similar.
For one client, we found that 84% of crises were caused by the same four things.
For another client, over 80% were caused by just two things.
As the military saying goes, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”
As it turns out, there aren’t all that many reasons why shipments go out late, or projects get delayed, or customers return products. And thanks to Pareto, you will find that 80% of returned orders are for a small subset of products, and 80% of late shipments are caused by a handful of reasons, and so on.
Use the “Five Whys” of the Toyota Way. To use a classic example:
Beware of “magical thinking” during the Five Whys process — you’re looking for causes that are realistic.
Root cause analysis is a great group activity — it allows people to stand shoulder to shoulder, looking at the problem – instead of standing nose to nose, blaming each other. As a leader, be the first to volunteer your own errors during root cause analysis.
In the above example, if you are in charge of training new developers, you should volunteer that “my group failed to train the developer.” If you were the boss didn’t insist that your new developer get training, you should volunteer that “I didn’t require him to take quality training before pushing code into production.”
I promise you, other people in the room are already thinking about your role in creating the crisis. When you say it before they do, you reduce tension, you show yourself to have strong character, and you inspire them to admit to their own contribution to creating the crisis.
This helps you as a leader to Drive Out Fear.
Get Up Stream
Everything is a system — some just aren’t documented. Your firefighting is ultimately part of a system. Once the pattern has emerged, you can identify the systemic causes, stop fighting fires, and create long term solutions.
Your next step should be, insert a fix at each level of the Five Whys analysis.
Using the same example:
Notice there is no step labelled “fire the bad person” — you should assume there are no bad people, only systems that need improvement.
Got a problem you can’t analyze, or a log of fires with no clear pattern? Contact me and I’ll lend you a hand.
Tom Cox is a Beaverton consultant, author and speaker. He coaches CEOs on how to boost performance by building workplace trust.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
BY OREGON BUSINESS STAFF
An SEC rule targets the disparity between executive and employee compensation, reigniting a long-standing debate about corporate social responsibility.
Tuesday, December 09, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER
On the eve of the Portland Ad Federation's Rosey Awards, Matt Anderson, CEO of Struck, talks about the transition from creative director to CEO, the Portland talent pool and whether data is the new black in the creative services sector.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Seven tidbits of information from an agency partner and co-founder of Waggener Edstrom in Lake Oswego.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
2014 was a year of wild contradictions, fast-paced growth and unexpected revelations.
Thursday, December 04, 2014
BY DEBRA RINGOLD | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
How important are institutional and/or program evaluations provided by third parties in selecting a college or university program?
Thursday, December 18, 2014
BY MEGHAN NOLT
VIDEO: Under the radar — complete with a soda counter, the traditional Paulsen's Pharmacy looks to compete with big box retailers.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:
The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace.
Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.
This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay.
Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.
New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”
That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!
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