Anticipate and Avoid Problems

I love my desk chair.  It’s like an old friend. 

We met fifteen years ago in an office supply store.  There were many choices that day, but something about the chair spoke to me.  Maybe it was because it was covered in “Dude Black” leather, like those pants my mother forbade me to buy in high school, and had countless levers and knobs to adjust to varying degrees of comfort.

Not surprisingly, my office manager isn’t a huge fan of the chair.  She never said this out loud for fear of hurting my feelings, but I noticed the subtle way she would close my office door anytime guests came calling; or solicitors; or even the UPS delivery guy.

Still, my chair and I have bonded.  I have fallen into the seat each day and it has hugged me like an overzealous grandmother.  It has adapted to my propensity to recline while on phone calls, giving way with ease.

But over the past few months I noticed a change.  The hugs were still there, but my old friend seemed to recline past a level that feels comfortable.  I adjusted the levers and knobs, but nothing seemed to help, so I chalked it up to my own weak abs and vowed to “blast my core” more consistently at the gym.

Then it happened.  I sat down hard and received my customary hug, forgetting that aging, overzealous grandmothers sometimes develop hip problems.  A millisecond after settling in, I heard a snap and felt myself accelerating backward.  I called upon ab muscles that haven’t seen action since the Reagan administration, but they are on long-term sabbatical.  The result was me screaming “Oh no, here I go!” and riding the chair to an abrupt stop on the ground.  Katherine’s concern turned to uncontrolled laughter when she rushed in and saw me seated with my back to the ground like an astronaut awaiting liftoff.

Luckily, I’m OK, and chairs are on clearance at Staples.  But this episode reminded me of the pitfalls we face in business, and it’s no laughing matter.  Sometimes we fail to see how outdated systems and processes no longer serve our needs, yet we ride them straight into the ground, watching our organizations bury themselves in the process.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Here are some lessons learned from my chair ride that will help us avoid problems. 

  1. Beware the Band-Aids:  We often patch old systems because of the prohibitive cost of a complete overhaul or replacement.  Unfortunately, we also fail to calculate a cost of a system failure, especially as the system grows over time and impacts additional areas of the business.  
  2. Anticipate Problems:  Coming up with quick “work-arounds” to a minor system or process problem is evidence of a nimble workforce.  At the same time, we must continue to ask “What else could go wrong” and develop preventive and minimizing actions ahead of time to avoid constant fire-fighting which, while glamorous, detracts from your ability to execute a proactive strategy.
  3. Examine Traditions:   Often times, we hang on to traditions – “the way we’ve always done it” – and justify it by saying that sustaining the process is critical to maintaining our corporate culture.  It is possible to change your process without changing your culture and as Mark Twain wrote, “Sacred cows make the best hamburgers”.

For over 35 years we have helped clients stay in front of problems to minimize fire-fighting and avoid catastrophic failure.  If you are looking to avoid your own “Chair Breakdown”, give us a call at (800) 386-5611.








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