I’ve got a longer Blog than normal today but I think it’s worth it.
Back in 1992, I was a young CEO who had just taken on the job of turning around a failing dried fruit company in Australia. When I started in the role I soon realised that I had no idea what I got myself into. This company had 2 claims to fame, it was one of the largest dried fruit producers in the world and one of the worst. The quality of our Sultana’s and Raisins was terrible but we had loads of them! What a dilemma.
Almost all of the leadership team, for want of a better word, spent the vast majority of their time trying to fix problems or put out fires. They spent very little time leading which meant the company was in a death spiral. Being young and inexperienced, I didn’t know much but I did know that this couldn’t go on if the company was going to survive. I also knew that I didn’t have the answers so I went looking for someone who did. That’s when I came across what was to become one of the most influential events of my management career; Bill Conway the CEO of a leading Fortune 500 company and leading proponent of Total Quality Management (TQM) was in Australia to conduct a 2 week intensive workshop on TQM. So I paid my money and booked in. It totally changed my life and my view of business…..that’s when I first heard the expression “Cause and effect are never related in time and space”.
The impact of this single phrase changed the way that I looked at problems, not just in business but in my life. Cause and effect are never related in time and space….I know it sounds strange but it simply means that the problems that we encounter in life were almost always caused by actions we took at some other time and place…this is just the end result of those actions. For instance, imagine if you can that I’m a great big guy who’s overweight and doesn’t exercise (I know it’s a stretch but imagine it). I’m sitting down to relax one night and I have a heart attack…I have massive pressure on my chest and can’t breath.
Now….did my heart attack have anything at all to do with me sitting down to relax? Most likely not. What do you think caused my heart attack? It may have had something to do with my lifestyle over the past 60 years, lack of exercise and total neglect of my health. The event of my heart attack was not in any way related to what was happening at the time I had the heart attack…it was related to events at another time (the past 60 years) and another place (wherever I was during that time when I didn’t take care of myself). If I want to avoid having another heart attack do I avoid sitting down to relax? That’s what I was doing when I had the heart attack wasn’t it? No, I look at the underlying cause and stop doing all of the things I had done in the past that led to me getting the heart attack…..Cause and Effect are never related in time and space!
That’s long-winded way of getting to my business story of the week. I was invited into a company to train their Customer Service team. This company had grown their customer service team in the past year from 3 people to 7 people and was looking at adding another 3 people to keep up with demand. So, in 1 year customer service staff had grown from 3 to 10 people….WOW… What a fantastic commitment to customer service. Or, what on earth is going on to need that many customer service staff. So, instead of running a training program for the stressed out customer service team; teaching them how to better handle customer complaints, I sat with the management to finds out why they needed to more than triple the size of their customer service team in one year. The results were amazing.
It turns out that the company had grown rapidly, added people and product lines but their systems, processes and procedures had failed to handle the new volume. The team was putting in their best effort but their service delivery had fallen apart at the seams. Everything you could imagine that could go wrong had gone wrong. Staff were demoralised, people were blaming each other and moral was at an all time low. They saw customer service training as a solution to their problem…if they could lock up the customer service team in a back room and they could handle the irate customers, everything would be great! Wrong. It’s like treating a heart attack with a pain-killer. You might get some immediate relief but you’ll be dead tomorrow.
I told the leaders of this company the story of my experience at the Sultana company and convinced them that they needed to look at the underlying cause of their problems rather than treating the symptoms that they can see every day. That journey is just starting for them but it’s one that they won’t regret.
How often do you treat the symptoms of your problems, whether it’s your company or your own personal problem and never get to the underlying cause. You might get some temporary relief, like my client did, but in the end you will suffer far more because of this.