Archive for June 1st, 2012

June 1, 2012

Problems: What Separates the Good Guys from the Bad?

I have some bad news for you. At some point, your organization is going to stumble. It’s going to mess up. Hopefully, mistakes will happen infrequently. But, happen they will.

What separates the good organizations from the bad is not which ones can be perfect. Perfection is impossible. Nevertheless, some managers continue to expect perfection of themselves and their colleagues. This may stem from a perfectionist personality or, perhaps, a misunderstanding of the principles of Total Quality Management 

Developed by W. Edwards Deming and others, TQM is a management philosophy and process that, when applied to the nonprofit world, involves all staff, volunteers, vendors, service recipients, and donors in the enhancement and maintenance of quality of products, services, and processes. In short, TQM is about continually striving for improvement rather than attaining perfection.

If one desires perfection, he or she will likely become quickly frustrated by problems and even sweep them under the rug. By contrast, those who embrace the idea of working for continual improvement will welcome problems as an opportunity to enhance products, services, and processes.

So, when it comes to problems or mistakes, what separates the good organizations from the bad is how the organization deals with them. Is the organization combative or defensive? Or, does the organization welcome feedback and challenges as an opportunity to improve?

This should come as no surprise to you: Those organizations that meet the latter description are more likely to provide better products and service, and they are more likely to have happy, generous volunteers and donors.

So, how can you deal most effectively with a problem or mistake?

Step 1–Understand It:

You can’t solve a problem or fix a mistake if don’t know about or don’t understand it. So, if someone tells you they have a problem with your organization or that it made a mistake, listen carefully and, then, ask questions.

For example, a donor may call you and say, “Hey, you people misspelled my name in the annual report!” Ok, the mistake is pretty clear. Even so, asking more questions will clarify the problem and, if you confirm the spelling of the person’s name, will help to minimize the risk of making a similar mistake in the future.

In another case, a donor may simply call you and scream, “You people are a pack of idiots!” In that case, the problem or mistake is completely unknown and will require some serious probing.

Remember these helpful tips:

  • When confronted with a problem or mistake, do not react defensively.
  • Do not ignore the problem or mistake.
  • Listen carefully.
  • Ask the questions that will help you understand the issue.
  • Do not be dismissive of someone’s complaint. At the very least, it’s important to the person complaining.

Step Two–Own It!

When you hear about a problem or mistake, own it. Yes, at times, this can be very difficult to do. But, do it.

If it’s your fault (i.e.: you misspelled the donor’s name), apologize. If the situation was truly outside your control (i.e.: an unexpected rainstorm forced the cancelation of an outdoor event), express regret. And, work on dealing with the situation.

I had a guest blogger whose website had a glitch. One of my readers contacted me about not being able to order a book from the site. After making sure I understood the problem, I responded to my reader by expressing regret for the difficulty, recommending a course of action to her, and telling her I would help by contacting the author.

Even though the problem did not involve my company, my website, or my book, I took responsibility for helping. By the way, the author quickly fixed the problem and was grateful to learn about it.

Remember these helpful tips:

  • Be willing to express regret and concern. Be ready to apologize.
  • Never say, “It’s not my job.”
  • Be helpful even if you’re not the source of the problem or mistake.
  • Even if you refer the issue to someone else to address, follow-up to make certain the situation is remedied.

Step 3–Consider Alternative Solutions:

Now, you’re ready to consider the entire range of solutions to the situation. For example, with the website glitch I touched on above, I considered a number of courses of action including:

  1. Simply refer the reader to the author’s contact page.
  2. Tell the reader I would handle it.
  3. Not communicate with the reader, but pass along the information to the author.
  4. Suggest that the reader contact the author directly and express that I would do the same.

By considering all possible courses of action, the best solution will eventually emerge.

Remember these helpful tips:

  • Consider all courses of action. The best solution may not be the first idea you come up with; it might be the 20th.
  • React quickly. Problems do not improve with age.
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