Are You a Toothpick Hunter?

Are you pursuing the right issues?  Are your people accomplishing the right things?  This intriguing story was shared by our Associate and frequent contributor/author of Action Insights, Scott Dannemiller:

My dad was one of twelve kids.  You read that right.  Twelve.  That’s enough people to field a football team with one left over to act as a water boy.  This resulted in a very full house and a very empty bank account.  Dad always said, “You knew it was getting close to payday when you found a baked bean sandwich in your lunchbox.”

He attended Catholic high school on a partial scholarship, which, in those days, meant you had to work for your tuition.  He held the glamorous position of “Assistant to the School Janitor.”  Right up there with captain of the football team in terms of date-ability.

After classes every day, when his friends would go cruise Main Street, he would feverishly clean the school bathrooms under the tutelage of Joe Skadudo, a gruff old man.  And every time dad would cut a corner, Joe would balance his toothpick between his lips and scoff, “Not good enough.”  And back my dad would go, to do some extra mopping.  He wondered, how does that grumpy old guy know I didn’t do a good job? He hardly even glanced at the bathroom?

One day while sweeping, my father picked up a toothpick from behind the post of a bathroom stall.  The next day, he noticed another toothpick stashed behind a toilet.  Each day he swept them up, and each day his cleaning passed inspection.  The light bulb went off.  My dad had cracked Skadudo’s code! 

It was the “Toothpick Tell.”  Joe stashed picks all over the place and used them as his metric for cleanliness.  The result?  My dad became a world-class toothpick hunter.

So, where are your toothpicks?  I’ll bet they are hidden all over your organization.  Toothpicks are metrics that drive the wrong behavior and you need to get rid of them.  But how?  Here are some tips:

  1. Reverse Engineer Your Measurement:   Has your strategy changed?  If your strategy has changed, then the odds are good that your current list of metrics do not support your mission.  Look at your current metrics and work backwards to understand what strategies they are really supporting.
  2. Validate Your Assumptions:  Our knowledge and experience can sometimes lead us to the wrong conclusions.  Gather empirical evidence (rather than confirming evidence) that proves or disproves your assumptions that certain indicators truly lead to the results you seek. 
  3. Share Metrics Across Functions:  Silo’d organizations are famous for having conflicting metrics.  Consider the customer service organization that is laser-focused on providing personal care while the IT department is driving toward rapid implementation of new automated self-service options.  A recipe for disaster.  You need to negotiate metrics that support strategies across organizations rather than just in your personal area of responsibility.

In 35 years of working with clients, we’ve fine-tuned techniques that provide focus in situations where distractions can become overwhelming.  If you are looking to eliminate “toothpick hunting” in your company, give us a call at (800) 386-5611. We would love to lend a hand.








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