Opinion

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Business Is Personal

Operations Problems? Part 2

Common problems shouldn't be common at all. Even a week later.

Last week, we looked at a few common operations problems. – even though they shouldn’t be common at all. This week, let’s check off a couple more.

Follow through. Few do.

Have you ever noticed that you get a bunch of work done just before leaving on vacation? Obvious hint: Deadline. Or that your “do this before leaving on vacation” list is essential to making sure that you pack your swimsuit, turn off the stove, and take the dog to the kennel? Obvious hint: Checklist.

Follow through works the same way. You have to be careful that it doesn’t become micro-management, which no one appreciates. Ever wondered “What’s the difference between following up and micro-management?” While you could ask your team, you can probably ask yourself. Answer this: “Why am I following up?” If your answer is that you haven’t gotten a status report recently even though a deadline has passed (or is coming soon), that’s probably not micro-management. If it’s because you don’t trust the person to get the work done without regular (even more than once a day) attention from you, then it’s probably micro-management. Think hard, because in many cases, the latter answer is the right one.

If someone knows they’re expected to provide a status report every Thursday afternoon, they’re more likely to make better progress on the work involved. Work is a funny thing, it expands to fill the container provided. As Stephen Covey made famous with his four quadrants, it’s easy for urgent and unimportant work to fill the day and displace important work. It isn’t that this work shouldn’t be done, it’s simply that it isn’t as important as a team has agreed to previously. Otherwise, why would you be expected to provide a project status report next Thursday? Why would anyone need that status report?

What’s even better than a status report that you ask someone to provide? The status report they provide without being asked.

When you provide a project update to your manager / leader / owner without being asked, you make it clear that you know that work is important AND that you know it’s important that the manager / leader / owner knows how things are progressing. Most managers / leaders / owners don’t want to nag – they simply have to because no one is volunteering the information. Result: They don’t know the status of the operations they’re trying to manage.

Unknowns make people nervous, especially as deadlines approach. Make sure your team understands that and that you appreciate follow ups so that you can do the work they expect of you.

Post-mortem your disasters

One of the best times to prevent something from happening again is by taking some notes while it’s happening. An in-disaster post-mortem, for lack of a better term.

Oh, I know. You’re too busy wrestling the fire hoses to stop and take a note for 30 seconds. Really though, you’re not.

If this bad thing happens regularly, put a recurring reminder in your calendar for a few days / weeks / months before the event. A simple reminder to deal with that one little thing that defuses a minor disaster is pretty valuable. Example: Before a trade show or big marketing push, contact your credit card company (merchant card processor) and alert them that you might be processing (much?) higher volume than usual. A five minute call is much less hassle than having your merchant account temporarily disabled in the middle of the business day.

Perry Marshall once mentioned a question his company uses – and I love it: “What system, if fixed or implemented, would have prevented this problem in the first place?” Important for leaders: Don’t ask this question after stating your answer to the question. If you do, you’ll likely miss out on some good ideas that you probably didn’t have. Let someone else get this win – one of them is likely to have the same idea. Listening to the discussion will be far more valuable than showing how smart you are.

What a post-mortem isn’t: A process for assigning blame. Blame has zero ROI, at best. Improvement has a massive ROI, particularly when it prevents future disasters (even minor ones). We can’t always see the future well enough to avoid disaster, but we can convert them into a positive by learning from them. Make disaster avoidance part of your creation, operations, deployment process.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site, contact him on LinkedIn or Twitter, or email him at mriffey@flatheadbeacon.com.