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  • James Walton

How to Respond to Problems

Problems happen. And the response can occur on at least two levels.

Level 1: identify the thing that happened and its impact.  Seek to determine what is true before assigning blame. Ask questions like:

  • What happened?

  • When did we know a problem was developing?

  • Who did we ask for help?

  • What did we do in light of that information?

  • Who is affected by this?

  • Are we aware of the full impact of our (non)actions?

Tracking the answers to these questions in an issue log is an effective way to document and externalize the issue. Communicating the issue log to the team means they can learn from other's mistakes (which is a far easier way to learn than from your own mistakes.)

Level 2: Use the problem as an opportunity to update your processes so the same problem happening again is lessened.

When something goes off the rails, fix it. Once the dust has settled, gather your team, your issue log and your curiosity and collaborate around a set of questions like:

  • How we can prevent this from happening in the future? (Be sure to facilitate the conversation toward changing future behavior, not litigating the specifics of past behavior)

  • What emphasis can we bring to our onboarding / training / continuing education to mitigate this risk? 

  • Can any of these steps be automated to prevent clerical error?

  • Are their visual elements in the process that can flag us when we're about to go off track?

Problems are problems. But they're also opportunities to learn and develop the structure to ensure they don't reoccur. 

[Personal note: I'm not unaware of the deep uncertainty we all feel right now and how the problems we're facing are not ones of our own direct making, and how the solutions to them seem distant and vague, if present at all. Meanwhile, we all live with the consequences of lost jobs and shuttered businesses for which there are no easy answers. I don't mean to diminish the gravity of the challenges facing many of us, or pretend that some checklists will drag us out the mess. 

And at the same time, our collective capacity to iterate, grow, and improve in real-time is a strategic advantage that will benefit any organization, especially during periods of economic uncertainty. Hopefully, this pulls you a little further that direction.

So to each of you: know my heart goes out to you, the business you represent, and the livelihoods you're responsible for. I pray these little notes are of some substance, hope, and utility for you.]


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At Trellis Group, we believe chaos is the enemy of the small business. It's our mission to partner with small business owners and their teams to develop the managerial practices and processes to crush chaos. Revenues go up, anxiety goes down, and work becomes a force multiplier for good in the lives of your people. Reach out to discover how the Trellis Group can help you crush chaos.