Like most parts of life, work comes with expectations. Those expectations are typically high, but more important than the expectations are the actual results. Like in life, the success of our businesses count on everyone meeting their respective expectations. Unfortunately, most of the time that doesn’t happen. It’s typically not from a lack of effort, but because of real issues. The most common issue that leads to missed expectations is a lack of understanding of what is actually preventing them from being met. In my world, this is called the GAP… or the difference between the expectation and the actual outcome.
The question I always like to ask when expectations aren’t being met is: What is the real problem? Usually everyone thinks they have the solution (just ask them), but often that solution does not address the real problem. By not identifying the real problem, not only does the problem not get fixed, it also creates frustration in the people affected. Our success in any organization relies on our ability to become great problem solvers. But in order to become great problem solvers, we have to become great at Identifying the GAP.
Here are some of the ways I try to teach leadership to approach this with their teams.
A straightforward Lean tool known as a “Gemba Walk” encourages us to observe the situation for ourselves. Ironically most people do not use this important method. I always encourage people to show me or to get up and go watch the activity as it is happening. You will be amazed at what you learn. Incorporating this into best practices like Leader Standard Work can always help us catch the problem before it becomes too big.
Deal with the facts
So often situations become personal because most people are passionate about their jobs. That is a great problem to have but can cause conflict when trying to problem solve. The best leaders in the world love their employees but must take the emotion out of the situation and deal with the facts. I always teach people to look at the facts, meaning the expectation and what is actually occurring. Identify the GAP between the expectation and the current result because therein lies the problem. With the problem identified, we can now use all tools and resources available to solve it.
So often leaders will quickly respond that they are “busy” and quickly move to resolve the first problem that presents itself. By doing this they miss out on the opportunity to coach. They give the solution, or what they think is the solution, so they can move on to the next problem or task. There are two major issues with this approach. The first is that the real problem was never really identified, and therefore it wasn’t solved. The other is that our employees are usually the experts, and by quickly solving the obvious, leaders miss the opportunity to coach on how to identify the problem, and also solve the problem. We just need to guide them by asking the right questions and coaching them on how to approach the situation.
We call it Continuous Improvement for a reason – problem solving is a circle. And although we are in a relentless pursuit of perfection, it is often a challenge to obtain that goal. There is always another GAP, and in turn, another opportunity or a problem that needs to be identified and solved.