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Forget Quick Fixes: Do a ‘Slow Fix”

Posted by admin on April 29, 2013

The headline for this blog was the headline of an article in USA Weekend that caught our eye this week.  The article was about a book titled The Slow Fix: Solve Problems, Work Smarter and Live Better in a World Addicted to Speed by Carl Honoré.  We haven’t had a chance to read the book, but the article had a great quote from the author:  “We always seem to have the time and money to clean up the mess left by the failed quick fix.  So why not reverse that equation?”  We couldn’t agree more.

The article points to some of Honoré’s recommendations for what to do after realizing you face a problem and we’ve added our thoughts about how these apply to problem solving in the workplace:

Pause – Great advice.  There is always a natural instinct to jump into the fray and try to solve a problem quickly.  This is generally fruitless because there is little information about the problem (when and where it occurred, symptoms, things that may have changed, etc.) to give a clear idea of what caused the problem and how it can be fixed.  Unless the problem is identical to a problem that has occurred before, you need to think through the dimensions of the problem before identifying a root cause and a fix.  Even with problems that seem identical to past problems, you can jump to the wrong cause of the problem unless you compare all the data from the past problem to the current problem.

Admit Mistakes – We have seen a lot of time wasted trying to identify who is responsible after a problem happens.  Frankly, it doesn’t matter.  The critical goal is solving the problem correctly in as little time as possible.  On the other hand, if someone did make a mistake, he or she needs to admit it quickly because it is relevant information to identifying the cause and fix.  The mistake is going to come out eventually, so admit it, learn from it and get the fix implemented.  And for managers and supervisors, don’t punish for mistakes (unless someone makes the same mistake multiple times).  Use it as a teaching moment for everyone.

Look to Others – There are few problems that can be solved solo.  Even if you take ownership of a problem, you need to rely on others for data about the problem and you need to convince others of the root cause and the fix for the problem.  We have found that having a common process and vocabulary for discussing problems helps to significantly reduce the time from problem to solution.

See the Humor – Yeah, it can be tough to laugh about something that’s gone wrong in the workplace, especially with profitability and customer expectations on the line.  But there are times when some levity breaks the pressure and allows people to think more openly and creatively about a problem.   As a colleague of ours said, “We’re not curing cancer here, so let’s have some fun once in a while.”  Some humor may also prevent some problems from occurring by keeping the mind engaged.

Accept the Unknown – Again, a tough concept for companies to think about.  But sometimes implementing a fix is an unknown because there is no way of effectively testing some fixes before they are implemented.   The best you can do is make sure you have used all available data to pinpoint the root cause and then selected the best fix for that root cause.  Having everyone on board with the fix also helps make sure you have considered all aspects of the fix.  We also teach our clients’ employees to think about what could go wrong with the fix so they are better prepared for the unknown.

One of our key takeaways from the article is that you need to slow down so you can truly solve problems more quickly.