Thanks to our memories of a very popular TV show most of know what a MASH unit does. Do you know the story behind MASH units? During WWII they used to have aid stations behind the battle field to patch up soldiers and then evacuate them back to a hospital far behind the lines. They found that the quicker the wounded were treated in a hospital the higher their chance of survival.
Hence was born the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital or MASH. These hospitals operated close to the front lines and moved with the troops, increasing the survival chances of injured troops.
In business too, problems need to be solved as quickly as possible. (Hawkeye and Trapper style hijinks are optional in the process.）Unfortunately most business managers seem to prefer to avoid problems in the short-term, panic in the mid-term and duck-and-cover in the long-term
Identify problems quickly, even before they become problems
When managing a corporate training centre we developed a little trick for our longer courses. After a couple of classes we would ring up a few of the students to see if there was any problem. If there were any complaints or issues from the beginning we could usually solve them quickly before they become big problems.
Actually what we were really doing was gaining feedback to help the trainer optimise their training style during delivery. Most training organisations that I have seen usually wait until the middle or the end of course to evaluate the course. This of course is far too late.
Whatever you are doing gather information about the quality of the work being done from the beginning so that intervention can be done before there are any problems.
Get everyone's side directly
When dealing with corporate clients sometimes you will have so many layers to feedback that the message is lost. So when developing and implementing software for companies, a client staff member might say something to their manager who complains to the head of the IT department, who asks an assistant to call the sales person in our company who talks to the software developer. By which time a simple request for a possible change has become a huge complaint.
Attribution: Pixabay - PublicDomainPictures
Whenever I hear complaints either as a manager or against me directly I ask "Tell me the names of the people complaining so I can talk to them directly."
Some managers go crazy telling people that there are complaints yet they can't tell you the details of the complaint as they never talked to the people who had the problem. Half the time the complaints are real and the other half of the time the complaint you hear is different from the original complaint.
Put the focus on what is being done right
Going back to training, I have seen and been the victim of feedback which basically takes a complaint and tells you to stop doing certain things. So one student will say something like that they don't like the games and activities based training, so you have to stop using activities. Then another student says they want more games and activities based training, so you have to put them back in. In some places you could end up flip-flopping on a daily basis.
Attribution: Pixabay = Nemo
Instead, it is much better to ask people what is being done right. In training there is always one student who wants a change. Much better to find out what all the students like and focus on pleasing the majority and accommodating the minority.
When giving feedback make sure you collect as much positive feedback as possible.
Fix the problem, not the person
I have seen staff members in tears because they can't get the resources to do their job. In my first job years ago in a university, I was required to write software but they refused to give me a computer. I have also been sent out to talk to clients time and time again where my expectations of the meetings were not same as the clients. So many organisational problems are blamed on people when the real issue is usually something else.
Attribution: Pixabay - avtoritetkhv
So often there is a problem in an organisation. Attacking or changing staff usually does very little to fix the problem. In fact this can only work by paying higher rates for staff with exceptional skills or are prepared to work long hours, while solving problems in the system saves you a lot of money.
Don't avoid problems
I have rarely seen a situation where an avoided problem doesn't just get worse. Every angry client, every disgruntled employee, every piece of broken equipment needs to be dealt with.
One of the most interesting examples I saw was while volunteering with a job club helping disadvantaged people prepare their resumes and apply for work. I say how they avoided a problem for over 9 months.
In this place they didn't collect any information about client satisfaction about outcomes. One of the first things I recommended was to gather this information. Because the job club team and volunteers had absolutely no idea whether they were making any difference because normally they would see a client once and that was it.
This all blew up when they started receiving complaints from clients and non-job club case managers. The result was a mess of accusations and little done to actually solve the problem.
If they had gathered information from the beginning they would have been able to identify problems before they even occurred and when they realised that they might have a problem they could have decided to start gathering feedback and information. Instead they ignored the problem until it had become deeply entrenched with many people believing others were the ones at fault.
Managers should be problem solvers
There are still managers who will say "Bring me solutions, not problems", though I wonder to whom should I take my problems to. Great managers are real problem solvers. They are proactively identifying problems and improvements.
Attribution: Pixabay - PublicDomainPictures
Solving problems means is always good
The time of effort of deal with problems pays for itself, firstly in terms of having fewer big problems. Also the long-term outcome of being a problem solver is that every time you solve a problem you improve your business, systems and product and also earn the respect and loyalty of staff.