If you've been in business long enough, you've come up against a huge challenge or two that you might have even classified as catastrophic or a total wreck. Hopefully, time and a little perspective have softened your view (it usually does for me). If you haven't had a major challenge of this sort, you probably will at some point. In business, where there are a lot of moving parts and moving targets, it's inevitable that some things are going to break down or someone is going to miss. It's simply the nature of the game. But how you treat these "disasters" can be the difference in learning and moving forward stronger, or killing morale and productivity. As an entrepreneur, the choice is yours.
In any business, the greatest investment you make is in your people. It's your people who make the product, who help reach out to clients, who create excitement in the marketplace, and who keep the office running smoothly. Nothing is possible in business without the people who work in the business. Yet when something goes wrong, people are usually the first to get the blame, and often end up getting treated poorly because of the situation. The result is a lack of confidence, increased fear and decline in morale. All of these things lead to a direct decline in productivity.
Why does this happen?
Usually, mistakes and challenges bring up emotions in us as entrepreneurs. We've invested so much time and passion in our businesses that we are naturally attached on a deep, emotional level to their success. When things go awry, we naturally experience irritation or anger. Even worse, sometimes we simply isolate ourselves. We believe shutting people out and solving the challenge alone is the only way to move forward. Sometimes, our own confidence can be damaged if things go sideways. The challenge with this behavior is that it doesn't address the root issue, and it certainly doesn't provide solid, scalable solutions. But what do I mean by "scalable solutions"?
When something goes south in your organization, what's your method for fixing the issue? Do you cast blame and punishment and hope that fear will motivate, or do you seek out the root of the problem so that it can be corrected? We know that fear can be a motivator, but it is far from being the best motivator. Logically, the best outcome for a situation in which there was a big miss is identifying why there was a miss, correcting the issue, increasing confidence and moving on. Sure, disciplinary action should be applied if there is gross negligence, incompetence or malice, but those are actually pretty rare in most cases. The best course of action is to correct, and correction comes not by finding fault with people, but with process.
In our office, we have a saying: "It's the process, not the person." This means that whenever something does break down, we view it as an opportunity to improve the process. Sometimes we discover that no process ever existed. When you have someone in a role who's operating entirely from memory or routine, things are bound to get dropped. A process simply identifies what's required to make a task or project successful, and therefore adds a layer of accountability for team members. We've discovered that when we miss, it's usually a hole in the process, or a change in the process that wasn't previously identified that caused the miss. Simply put, people -- while your greatest investment -- are fallible, and a good process helps keep things running smoothly.
The effect of reviewing the process first can be liberating for your business. It helps your team understand that mistakes and misses aren't grounds for punishment and fear, but rather opportunities to grow and learn and revise processes to make things better. The added benefit of identifying and correcting processes is that should a team member be out, someone else can step in and complete a task or project, because the nuts and bolts of what's required to succeed are documented and spelled out clearly. This is what a scalable solution looks like. By focusing on process, you're increasing confidence that you'll perform better in the future for you and your team, instead of killing morale by arbitrary punishment.
Of course, there will be times when team members have a solid, documented process before them and still miss. These are opportunities as well. Should you find yourself in this situation, before going straight to blame, dig a little deeper and find out what's really going on with that team member. Are things okay at home? Are they overwhelmed? Are they disengaged, and if so, why? Asking these things will give you an opportunity to help the team member overcome personal challenges and improve performance. Sometimes, you'll discover that the person is not right for the role, and that's okay, too. Rather than disciplining someone continuously for a job they shouldn't be doing to begin with, you've identified the need to redeploy so that person is given a better chance to succeed.
So the next time you're faced with a big miss, or a challenge, remember that it's most likely the process, and not the person. Focusing on this will provide quicker and more lasting corrections, and boost the confidence in your organization.
Alex & Cadey Charfen are the Co-Founders of the Charfen Institute.