Continuously Improving on Sound Logic

The other day I saw my kids stacking a small stool onto another larger stool that was already on top of a kitchen chair. As the 6 year old was getting ready to climb up the DIY latter I walked into the room and said, Whoa what exactly is the plan here? They had let a balloon float to the top of the very high ceiling and thought if they stacked everything they could jump from the top stool and be able to reach the balloon. This my friends is what is referred to in our house as ‘sound 6 year old logic’.

Another time at work one of our team members announced she had been setting up a process that would require an additional call and letter for every customer that was serviced in the department. She was already weeks into setting up the process and building out the letter when told her team leader. When asked to clarify the reason and she said that it gave the best customer service. The process set us up to handle this item in compliance to the letter of the law and as a bonus allowed us to walk through it with our customer at the exact moment it came up for them.

These two stories are the same situation. Now you might be cocking an eyebrow thinking no way! the team member is helping the customer and your kid is a nut and so are you if you call that ‘sound logic’ at any age. Both the team member and the little guy were making the best decision they could with the information and the focus they had. The problem is they were working in a silo, working in a vacuum, whatever you want to call it. Both of them set up a plan based on what they wanted to accomplish and neither one of them took a step back to say, what other consequences could come out of this? The consequences for the 6 year old are clear right? For sure injury and probably damage to something based on stools and chairs flying everywhere as he jumped. For our team member they are a bit more complex. There was work in developing a new letter and the process to use it, added work for employees to make the additional customer contacts, and it could back fire on customer service. It may be confusing or worse yet frustrating to the customer to get multiple letters and calls rather than a single point where everything was discussed.

But Mommy I’m not going to fall in. See I can step on all of those rocks and get across!’
Solid plan little man. Let’s maybe find a bridge instead.

Neither the 6 year old or the team member actually did anything wrong. They came up with a solution, one that met the needs as they saw them. Sure there were pros and cons but, any problem to be solved will have numerous potential solutions and all of those solutions will have both pros and cons associated with them. There is very rarely one clear right and perfect choice. Knowing that, the best way to move forward is to get more input. Ask the stakeholders, when you’re able, how they would want to handle the situation. For the kid that might be mom and for the team member that might be the group that would end up doing the extra work. If you’re not able to do that, this is the perfect time to reflect. Was there a time in the past where anything similar came up? How did we make that decision and how can I implement that same logical strategy to this one.

I try to teach this strategy of decision making every single day. (I fail a lot and come out with a What were you thinking?! and then proceed to tell people the right answer based on doing it myself but we’re all a work in progress thank you very much.) I teach it by asking; Who was involved in the decision? How did we come to ____ choice? Help me understand this plan. I also tie the similar situations together for people to help prompt them to do the reflection on their own and point to the over arching mission in both. ‘Remember when we wanted to get that air plane that landed on the ledge over the stairs and mom said it was too dangerous to have the chair on the steps? This is kind of like that. We need to be safe and ask for help if we can’t reach.’ Or ‘We had something like this before when we added a cover page to the letters. Do you remember how much extra work that added? We didn’t have a choice then, and maybe we don’t now, but we certainly want to account for both internal and external customer needs so lets ask them what they think.’ It takes longer to do get to the result this way but allows for better, more comprehensive decision making and problem solving in the future.

Setting up matchbox tracks at the great grand parents house certainly celebrated the cumulative 14 years of wisdom as the goal of the game became to land your car in a prized mug of Grandma’s.

There are three things I want to leave you with as a part of this comparison and decision making framework.

1. Use the frame work to make decisions. Come up with your own idea on how to do something. Then before doing much, if any, work on it check the idea with the other stakeholders. Continue to check frequently throughout the process to ensure you’re still aligned. If you can’t talk to them consider their vantage point and reflect on past situations that may help you in this one.

2. Teach this to other people. It may seem simple logic to you but you’d be shocked how often even those of us who agree that that is the best way to do things get it wrong. Further, it never even occurs to some people to work that way. Developing a humble and collaborative mindset (I may not know or understand everything so I’d better ask some questions) is tough but so critical. It will take more time to do this and even more time to teach it well, but I’m telling you it’s worth it.

3. Change your perspective to applaud the effort. That is sound (insert appropriate age) year old logic. Is a statement that is said frequently at our house. Often (certainly not always) the ideas they come up with are really good ones when you consider their end goal. At work I tend to say, I totally get how you got here. What you were doing makes complete sense. There is just other factors to consider. Problem solving in and of itself is tough and important work. Celebrate coming up with a good solution, even if there is a better option. We want our kids, team members, friends, spouses, etc to come up with a solution (rather than always asking for the next step). Take the time to praise their idea and then gently point them toward continuous improvement to take it to the next level.

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