Hang around any industry or place of work long enough, and you’re going to see and hear stuff that confounds you. It’s certainly been true for me in the fields I’ve spent time in — law, publishing, writing, and the fishing industry.
Even if you’ve spent your entire working life in the fishing industry, you’ve touched peripheral fields — retail, manufacturing, wholesale, promotions, marketing, sales, shipping, guiding, design … you get the idea.
And you’ve certainly seen things that frustrated or even angered you. Maybe it was a person or maybe it was a policy or protocol, but you likely shook your head and wondered why it was done that way or how that person could have done it so badly. I’ve been in that position … more times than I care to remember.
I’ll bet you’ve looked at those people and those situations and thought about how to fix those problems. Maybe you even had a conversation with others about making things better or finding different people to handle certain tasks. I hope no one simply sits back and lets a bad situation continue without trying to make it better — though in some cases we are powerless to change things. After all, if the owner (or the owner’s nephew) is a screw-up, you may just have to work around that … or move on.
The truth is that bad or ineffective behavior and systems are either taught or they are tolerated. They are both “top-down” problems. They may manifest themselves anywhere in a system, but the true problem lies at the top of the hierarchy.
Quite often when the bad stuff was “taught,” it wasn’t bad. Things were different. Technology was different. Goals were different.
But they changed, and the way we did things did not change to keep up. Instead, we continued to do things the same way because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
As much as I respect tradition, that’s a terrible reason to continue doing anything. Bad tradition is bad.
If the bad stuff is not taught, but is merely “tolerated,” it can be even more deleterious. Not only does it undermine the effectiveness of the operation, but because everyone knows there’s a better way — a better protocol that’s already on the books or that was supposed to be implemented — it feels like there’s no meaningful leadership or direction. Those who are tolerating the bad stuff appear weak and ineffective. Why are they ignoring this problem? How stupid are they?
Sometimes, the reason bad stuff was tolerated made perfectly good sense in the beginning. Maybe there was a staffing crisis or some other exigency that demanded corners be cut, or protocols ignored. Unfortunately, the sketchy practices continued even after things got back to “normal.”
Luckily, the bad stuff that’s being taught or tolerated doesn’t have to keep eating away at an operation. It can be fixed, and it truly shouldn’t be complicated.
The first step to address any problem is to recognize and identify it. Regularly scheduled analysis helps. Maybe it’s done annually or monthly or whatever works in your world, but it needs to be on a schedule, and everyone in the system must be involved.
The second step is pointing out whether the problem is being taught or tolerated. If it’s being taught, change it. Create a new system. Find better trainers. Create an actual manual that’s printed out so there are no excuses for not doing things by “the book,” even if that means spelling out the situations where you can go “off book.”
And if the problem is being tolerated, establish a “sunset date.” Tell everyone, “Effective immediately, we are doing things the way we teach them, not the way you may want to do them or the way you think they should be done. Variation from the ‘right’ way will no longer be tolerated.” Have everyone involved acknowledge that they understand the policy and that they must abide by it.
Of course, you ultimately must hold everyone accountable to the standards or you wind up right back where you started.
These “resets” are critical to any operation that’s been around for a few years or more … and they have value whether that operation involves two people or two thousand.
Taught or tolerated. I bet you that most — and maybe all — of your system problems fall into one of those categories.
The good news is that they can be fixed.