How to Put Problems into Context

people-woman-coffee-meetingProblems occur every day in the workplace. My career has been spent in broadcast, satellite, cable television and telecom industries particularly on the IT side of the operations. One of my most memorable and rewarding positions was a manager of the Network Operations Center. Every day I would get a list of issues and problems from the shift-reports from the prior day. Some of the issues were what I called mistakes. I make that distinction because on the surface it looks like one of my people made a mistake and caused the problems. So, as a manager I must “deal with the problem” or deal with the person who made the mistake. Before I sat down with someone I went through a process of putting the problem into the right context.

There are four contexts that a problem can be placed into:

  1. Was the correct procedure or tool used for the action or event?
  2. Are the tools working correctly or effectively?
  3. Was the person trained to use the tools or procedures effectively?
  4. Is the problem with the person?

Notice that I did not start with the person as being the problem or root of the problem. As a rule, I never evaluate the problem by assuming the person did something wrong. Most of the time, with a competent workforce, the problem is not with the person performing actions. I usually find that the SOP or procedure was not complete, not vetted, or inappropriate for the task. Sometimes I find that the tools were not working effectively. But the most common item was that the person was not properly trained on using the tool or the procedure. The most rare case was when the person was completely incompetent. (I actually had one guy quit because he knew he was going to be fired for incompetence; he simply could not learn to do what was needed to be done for the position he was in. He actually left the company and got a new job and excelled at his new place of employment. He is now an instructor at a local college and has had a growing career prior.)

So, it appears that most of the “mistakes” in the workplace came down to training. And, after years of experience, I can now make the following statements:

  • A well trained employee is effective.
  • Effective training is probably the most important activity an employer can do and most important invest an employer can make.
  • In my youth, my uncle always said, “With the right tools and the right training you can do anything.” I truly believe that and have experienced it throughout my career.