Solving Work Problems at Their Weakest Point
We have a lot of problems at work. This isn’t a bad thing mainly because over half of our mission is to detect, prevent, and manage accounting problems for the entire center. Our stumbling block, though, is the fact that some of these problems should be detected a long time before they reach our office for review. Our task to teach and train has somehow fallen by the wayside and it is easy to see the cause. We spend 25% of our time putting out fires and our staff is keenly focused on tackling the next problem.
We are working a plan to break the cycle one problem at a time. Determining the root cause is part of our plan to transform ourselves from a reactive office to a proactive office and one of my favorite tools is the ‘5 Whys’. The goal is to step backwards from the current situation to the root cause. By asking “why has this happened” five times, I should be able to identify the agent provocateur.
While I love this tool, I also acknowledge that I don’t always have influence over the root cause. Sometimes the best way to keep a problem from arising is to attack the problem at its weakest point.
Take, for example, one of the organizations who submit requests for funds. The guy who sends the requests is super busy which means 50% of everything he sends has an error. I can’t change that he is overworked. However, I have some influence over the person who approves his request before sending it to our office. Therefore, I attack the problem at the next approval point by letting her know there a few problems with his requests. We show her specifically what we are looking for and ask if she can do a quick review before sending them to us. We still get a few errors but we are slowly cutting down of the amount of rework.
Another example is resistance to change. We have three huge change initiatives that are affecting the entire center. That is a lot of change and the affected offices are not happy. And when the organizations aren’t happy, they don’t want to work the new process. There are a number of root causes including fear of learning a new technology, fear of lost expertise and influence, and pre-existing employee disengagement.
So, we have a multi pronged change management plan intended to address most of these issues. We have scheduled on-site and virtual training well in advance of the implementation to help those who are afraid of learning a new technology. We are encouraging each office to name at least one Subject Matter Expert (SME) that we can offer more in-depth training so no one has to ask us for help. (Organizations don’t like to ask us for help. I’m not sure why but it could be the fear of an informal audit.)
We also want to leverage employees who have deep knowledge of the existing accounting system. These people typically are the go-to people for the existing system and wield significant influence in this realm. By enlisting them to help us map the old and new accounting systems, they become an part of the change while maintaining their sphere of influence.
We identify actively disengaged employees but don’t plan to address them in our change management program. Disengaged employees need a specific TLC that should be implemented separate from a change management process. Our only aim is to identify them and try to navigate the waters of change without them tipping our boat over in the process.
Other recent examples include some customer service snafus. We have a lot of ‘Big Personalities’ and our center is littered with the bodies of people who stood in their way. Unfortunately, our office is something like the police station of accounting so we can’t take a lot of crap from people and we certainly don’t have time to hold your hand while we are trying to fix your problem. It isn’t uncommon for tempers to flare between customers and staff. In the end, it is always a ‘He said, she said’ scenario which I don’t have a lot of patience for.
I have no control over how our customers act in our offices. However, they won’t come to our office if I can prevent problems from happening. I can also train my staff on how to cool a situation instead of egging it on. I can make myself available to mediate problems.
Resolving problems isn’t just about dealing with what is in front of you. It is about keeping the problem from coming up in the future. It would be ideal if we could set up training to the center but it isn’t practical at the moment. We will chip away at the problems until we have enough time to conduct proper training classes.
How do you attack problems at work?