It’s Time to Fix Stupid

I am a firm believer that regardless of how some people say that “you can’t fix stupid”, it is fixable and can be very rewarding if done right. That being said, I will admit that I have seen some people do some pretty stupid things over the years. For example, I have seen:

  • A customer tell a quick lube technician that he thinks he has a gas leak around his engine and would the technician mind seeing if he could find it. The technician (having just attended a seminar that emphasized customer service) eagerly agreed to do what he could. After placing the vehicle on a lift and walking under it, he took out his trusty lighter and began to flick it so that he could have a little more light to see. Luckily, someone stopped him before the lighter (and probably the technician) found the leak and burst into flames.
  • A construction worker in the attic of a new home, trying to complete the finishing touches before the final walkthrough by the homeowner, decided to take a shortcut. However, in his haste, he slipped and fell between the ceiling studs. Unfortunately, the new owners were ahead of schedule and as they opened the front door, the worker’s leg came crashing through the ceiling! Not a good way to make a great impression!
  • A technician completing the install of a new door on a bank vault (yes, a very large vault, not a small safe), set the combination and then closed the door so he could test that it worked. Unfortunately, he had left the new combination on the inside of the vault! The company was forced to cut through the side of the vault to gain access to the inside so they could reset the combination.

Were these stupid people? No, these were intelligent people, trying to do the right thing but going about it in the wrong way. They allowed the situation to control them, rather than them controlling the situation. These situations could have been prevented very easily if the right steps had been taken or the proper groundwork set. In each of the cases above, management reacted quickly although not necessarily properly. Let’s take a look at each situation.

  • Gas leak. This could have been prevented very easily if the technician had been trained in safety and not just customer service. The shop was gung-ho to stress customer service first and foremost, but had failed to train staff members in the basics of safety. The technician had a goal, but failed to grasp the basic fundamentals needed to reach his goal in a safe manner.
  • Hole in the attic. The worker was so focused on completing his task that he failed to consider the possible consequences of his actions. If he would have stayed on the proper walkway rather than trying to take a shortcut, his situation could have been prevented.
  • No combination. Since the safe company did not have a well-defined protocol or procedure of how to install a combination lock, the technician was left to his own initiative of the best way to complete his job. Unfortunately, he was fairly new to the job (less than a month) and this was his first solo installation.

All of these situations occurred because of one of, or a combination of, the following issues:

  • A lack of understanding of how to evaluate the goals or how to reach them,
  • A lack of understanding how to eliminate unnecessary goals or ideas,
  • A lack of education on the subject, and
  • A lack of motivation.

These are all a direct result of a failure in management. One of the main duties of management is to protect your employees. This requires you to have an “all-seeing” frame of mind so you can prevent problems by constantly being aware of your people and their capabilities/shortcomings. By keeping your “mind on the mission” you can hopefully prepare and implement a plan to prevent situations like those listed above. What was the final result in these situations?

  • The technician was fired, creating additional issues for both the shop and the employee.
  • The company took the time to properly train the worker on safety and he became a valuable asset and long term employee.
  • The technician called his office and explained the situation, then walked out the door. He never returned to the company, instead he mailed his uniform and tools back to them and went to find another job.

No one said being in management would be easy. It is challenging, heart breaking, stressful and not very rewarding at times, but it can also be the most fun you will ever have if done right. If it isn’t fun, then get out and do something else.

You Can Fix Stupid

Keep your mind on the mission!

You can’t fix stupid! There is a popular comedian that has made his living speaking on this theme. It has become so popular that many in the general public have made it a catchphrase as well. However, I don’t agree with this philosophy or even the idea that things can’t be fixed. I believe that you CAN fix stupid by following a few simple steps.

The concept of “being stupid” is really due to one of, or a combination of, several issues:

  • A lack of understanding of how to evaluate the goals or how to reach them,
  • A lack of understanding how to eliminate unnecessary goals or ideas,
  • A lack of education on the subject, and
  • A lack of motivation.

The first step is evaluation. This is understanding and acknowledging the who, what, when, where, why and how of the goal. Before a project can begin, we have to understand what we want to accomplish as well as the assets available. The goal has to follow the SMART outline so that the project will be accepted by the staff. I believe that many businesses are believers in this management style, however they fail in the implementation step. My goal for this step has always been to evaluate how the staff should be involved in reaching the next step and then insuring that we continue to advance towards the goal. Once the mission is identified, we can’t afford to have anything stand in the way of it being accomplished.

Second is elimination. This step involves identifying any excess baggage and areas that are slowing or hampering the progress of reaching the goal and eliminating the problem. This includes systems, people, protocols and even unnecessary mini-goals. I am a firm believer that a goal should be a “living document”. This simply means that while the overall goal would be constant, implementation would continually be changing and adapting as new ideas, laws and technology evolve.  You must maintain an attitude of awareness and adaptability due to the frequent changes in technology and laws. An example of this is the issue of law firms being owned only by attorneys. There is a movement by some attorney groups to change the laws so that law firms could be publicly traded or, at a minimum, have additional owners that are not attorneys. I believe this concept will gain ground over the next several years and firms need to be prepared to address this issue.

Education is the third step. This is one of the most important steps. A lack of education creates ill will, discourse, rumors and misunderstanding. A lack of understanding creates a “what’s in it for them,” attitude that can be difficult to overcome. With the proper education, acceptance is created and with acceptance comes assurance and the inclination to share with others. A sharing attitude is exactly what you want the staff to possess. The staff has to be educated sufficiently in all the benefits that the project can provide until they reach the point that they are motivated enough to share the brand with others, that this is the” place to be”.

Fourth and final step is motivation. How do we keep the project interesting to everyone involved? This can usually be accomplished through education of the goal and helping the individual to understand “what’s in it for me”. This step requires constant contact through every avenue available so that the brand is at the forefront of every staff member’s mind and thought process.  My vision would be that every staff member would always be thinking about how they could improve and enhance their current projects while strengthening the brand.  Motivation is a lot easier to accomplish when you believe in your product and goals and will do anything to see them succeed.

These steps are most effective when performed in the sequence that I have laid out. However, they are also continuous in nature. You are always going to be educating staff members as new technology and programs are implemented. In addition, you will be in a constant state of evaluation/elimination of programs figuring out what works and getting rid of what doesn’t.

Being a leader requires a lot of the characteristics and talents portrayed in the old movie, The Wizard of Oz. You have to be prepared for anything and be able to think on your feet. Leadership takes courage to implement new ideas; intelligence to be able to think critically, analyze problems and come up with solutions; a heart so that you can connect with people to understand their passions, fears and desires; commitment to persevere to the end; and unlike the Wizard, the ability to be genuine and trustworthy so that when the curtain is pulled back, people can see you for who you really are. It will require the ability to be forward thinking while keeping the big picture in mind.

Keeping these steps in mind, while staying in a constant mindset of being aware of new solutions in technology, using social media to promote the brand and leveraging programs designed to bring ROI to the company will help you to “fix stupid” and be the type of leader your people need and deserve. Keep your mind on the mission.