Last Sunday morning while channel surfing through the cacophony of talking head shows, I ran across a very interesting discussion about foreign affairs. The guest was a certain former world political leader who shall remain nameless since, regardless of the wisdom of his utterances, many people would absolutely refuse to listen to due to the fact that he is who he is. I’ll let you figure out who the “is” is in this case. That should not be too difficult since I just gave you a strong hint.
Anyhow, the guest fielded an interesting question about making decisions and appropriately responding to problems related to foreign affairs. He offered an interesting analogy. Basically, he indicated that the first thing you must do is determine if the situation is more like a scab on your knee or an abscessed tooth. In both situations, you would naturally have some concern about the development and spread of infection.
However, once you assess and understand the situation you ask the question, “Will things get better if I just leave it alone?” If this is your assessment, then think of the situation as a skinned-knee type event, leave the scab alone, monitor things closely and see what happens. However, if the situation is more like an abscessed tooth, you immediately take action and do something about it. In this case, things will not get better if left alone. The infection does in fact exist and it will likely spread in the absence of intervention.
Most of you are not going to become world leaders or foreign affairs professionals. However, it struck me that the scab/abscessed tooth thinking is a pretty good way to analyze problems with your business. In other words, initially try to determine if the problem you are encountering is more like a skinned knee or an abscessed tooth, and respond accordingly.
Interestingly, it’s been my observation that managers often reverse this thinking. They spend a lot of time on, and make a big deal out of, things that will probably go away on their own if left alone. At the same time, they ignore abscessed tooth-like problems that absolutely will not go away on their own.
I see this happen most frequently with regard to the Peter Principle. I wrote a column on the Peter Principle in this newspaper about a year and a half ago, so I won’t get into too many details other than saying it is not unusual for some employees (at every level) to be promoted beyond their current level of competence. Think about it. If they are competent and opportunities continue to present themselves, they keep getting promoted. However, continued promotions (especially those based mainly on the passage of time) eventually take people one level beyond what they can competently handle. And then they get stuck! Rather than addressing the problem, everybody ignores it and a productivity killing infection begins to spread.
What are you spending too much time on that will probably self-correct with the passage of time? What are you ignoring?
Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through www.dmetraining.com.