—now’s not a good time to overreact!
Leaders must be intentional about creating a culture where employees aren’t afraid to identify situations that need correcting and where they feel empowered to suggest improvements. That kind of climate doesn’t develop by accident, especially in an operating environment that can be a little (or a lot) chaotic from time to time.
An inexperienced pilot, unable to diagnose a complex engine malfunction, offered this solution to the problem: “I’ll let it run until it’s on fire, because I know what to do for a fire.”
I’ve worked for bosses like that.
Don’t get me wrong…the ability to coolly manage a crisis is a valuable skill, and it feels great to be recognized for saving the day. But, if your organization’s reward system is biased towards those who are best at putting out fires, you’ll end up with a bunch of corporate arsonists working for you–people who are perfectly willing to watch small problems grow into the crisis du jour while they make sure their super-hero cape is ready for wear.
I’ve got the stick for a minute.
Let’s review some of what we already know about solving problems:
People tend to view problems either as opportunities to improve, or as negative experiences to be avoided at all cost. Which way your folks view them depends on you. Do they trust that you’ll stay calm in the face of calamity, or do they dread your overreaction to simple inconveniences? Don’t tempt them to ignore or hide issues because it’s too painful to tell you. Bad news doesn’t disappear just because you stop receiving it.
The best solutions usually come from a team that’s given the resources (like time) and tools (like a simple problem-solving methodology) to be innovative in creating ways to improve performance and results. If you’ve made them comfortable with the tools, they can apply them equally well during critical times and during less hectic times for making continuous process improvements. Battlefield reactions are honed through peacetime training, and solutions developed collaboratively in a practiced manner go beyond mitigating the situation at hand to identify and address the root cause(s).
And, make sure you’re not undermining teamwork by favoring or rewarding only the “go to” people; they might be closer to the problem than they are to the solution. If you’re leading a team that always seems to be in crisis management mode, chances are good someone knew about a situation that needed to be fixed before it became a real problem.
So, what kind of problem-solving culture have you created in your organization? Are you the kind of leader that waits until a problem becomes a crisis, or are you able to thoughtfully choose between the potential solutions your high-performing team brought you for consideration?
It’s up to you, leaders…
You have the stick.