Too often in companies - whether 5, 50, 500, or 5000 employees are involved - we see issues and broken processes that contribute to unhealthy habits, cycles, or work routines. Employees get used to performing additional responsibilities that are the result of broken technology, systems, or information. A global CFO I spoke with last week had the guts to share with me that every month their Business Intelligence System gives them information, but the information some months is correct and others it's off - and he has 3 members of his team spending 3 days of the month doing data verification. They take the data out of the system that was supposed to solve their business problems, export the data to excel – and reconcile the information to cross reference everything.
When I asked him what the problem was, he told me that there was some kind of 'fix' in the process. When I asked how long this had been going on, he didn’t blink and said a year. I sat stumped and verified that was I was hearing was correct. 'So.. almost a full week (72 hours) per month, is taking existing headcount to verify information.' He looked at me and shrugged with a bit of a smirk. Allegedly, there was no reasoning with the 'other' department that was in charge of technology, that they didn’t know how to communicate, and furthermore he admitted that he wasn’t the best at it either. He equated this problem to the business just running a certain way and that it was the way it had always been.
For me, that is quite possibly one of the scariest phrases you can ever hear. Add to that my other favorites: 'We have always done it that way', 'We don’t want to spend more', 'We can fix it ourselves' (Remedies, solutions, and great advice on how to deal with those statements can be found in one of the best books I have ever read by Marshall Goldsmith)
Please don’t get me wrong, systems and processes are good. A Broken Process can create a time suck, additional workload for employees who are already maxed out and is unhealthy for a business system. By the same token, overprocess can be just as damaging. If you have a 3-person company, you probably don’t need to have a 25-page offer letter.
Why is it that instead of creating a plan to correct an error, we are perfectly ok with the 'work around'? Why are we ok with making urgent situations unimportant, and unimportant situations urgent? Why do we spend time firing off emails out of frustration that lead us off track? Why do we avoid the crucial confrontations?
I think it was Warren Buffet that said, "Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks."
About a year ago, I heard something from one of the most dynamic women in my network, Stacey McKibbon. After I told her that some days it felt like I was putting out fires, she told me what I will share with you know. The biggest thing you can work on is learning to respond, not reacting to information when it is given to you. Take a pause. Take a moment, and formulate a response not a reaction. More importantly, perhaps, is to realize that often what you think are fires that need to put out aren't actually fires, it was just how I reacted that made me feel like they were.
Changing gears, making a pivot, or having the ability to change direction is a skill. It doesn’t always come naturally and sometimes it is hard to let go of something that has become so entrenched within your routine.
My lesson out of all of this?
- Broken process is a result of the people and their communication, not the systems in place. Systems & People are replaceable – but lack of communication remains constant if you chose to allow it.
- The next time you want to fire a response back to an e-mail that gets you charged up, save it as a draft and walk around your office- you might rethink and redraft a response versus a reaction.
- You are either part of the solution or part of the problem. You don’t get to abstain.