Tuesday nights at 8:30, you would find me on the living room floor, eating a bowl of cereal, watching “Laverne & Shirley.” That was my routine for years as a kid. That show would crack me up. These two women would find themselves in all sorts of situations, that were often caused by them. The remainder of the show would be about how they would unravel the trouble. The classic misunderstandings, assumptions, over-promising and poorly defined expectations filled most of the plotlines.
Sound a bit like work? Think of the trouble caused by misunderstanding, to start. Often, I hear the following:
- I didn’t know that was what he was asking me to do
- Wait, you meant for me to do that this week?
- I think my boss is trying to make me look bad on purpose
- How can I be expected to do anything more? No one knows all of what I do
Lack of clarity around process, personnel and results often find themselves into our daily “issue board.” You know, that growing list of concerns or problems brought up by misunderstanding. Think of the extra meetings you’ve had to bridge the gaps towards understanding. Lots, right?
I recall one particular time where I calculated 15 hours of my 40-hour work week spent on meetings I had not planned on having in order to mediate the trouble that was brewing surrounding misunderstanding, unrealized expectations and a general lack of grace towards each other. That was 37.5% of my work week. Productive? Maybe. Could it have been avoided to begin with? Much of it could have been.
I know that there is much to learn through situations like this. The “a-ha” moments usually come when someone, who has worked himself/herself into a tizzy, finds out that the “facts” he/she thought were off and it causes a reconsideration of how information is gathered and processed. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. And yet, if you find yourself in multiple situations like that, doesn’t that show more of a systemic issue?
Trouble is a difficult culture to break through. There are some companies that love it. They thrive on unhealthy relationships, difficult processes and a sloppy organizational design. That’s not a dramatic statement. Considering the amount of books, articles and workshops on dealing with toxic co-workers, difficult bosses and a separatist board of directors, it’s very reasonable to see that many companies must swim in this description and many of us deal with this on a regular basis.
As leaders, we ought to be proactive to thwart trouble before it begins. We can offer direction on process, wisdom in relational dealings and passion behind seeking resolution directly. It’s not meant to be emotionless, but it’s often the case that a culture allowed to be too emotional can end up being crippled by those emotions and fall short of the mission. We can encourage folks to move beyond such short-sightedness. The feeling is not where the prize is found; it’s in reaching the goal.
Consider marriage. The wedding itself is a fun day. It’s a party! There is much to love and feel good about; however, the marriage itself is the goal. Emotions won’t be in the same sphere each day as compared to the wedding. If the marriage is based on the desire to feel the way they did on the wedding day, the marriage is doomed. And so it is with business. Not every day is the first day of work; not every day is the first sale made; not every day is the holiday party. In between are days where a lack of clarity, issues around process and general trouble can occur. Taking a proactive stance to thwart such problems and to add value to the communicative process so that others can perform it without you is our job.
Open the dialogue, call others to a higher standard and bring issues out into the open with the purpose of educating, diffusing and moving on. Trouble festers if left unattended. Don’t let it happen. You can make such an impact. I mean, if Laverne and Shirley were able to do it in a 30-minute time slot, I have faith that you can get it done in a timely manner. Sclemeel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated to all!