“Chain Of How” = Problem

You are wasting employee skills and your customer’s time by not equipping your staff to solve problems.

While getting four new tires this weekend, I was being helped by the crew supervisor.  The other team-members interrupted my time with the supervisor to ask where to order a replacement part for another customer, how to enter a refund for someone else, and other similar questions.  Every customer with these crew-members had to wait for their person to get advice from the supervisor.  Of note, EVERYcrew-member had a question.

I recently finished Matthew May’s “In Pursuit Of Elegance” and he talks about a company named FAVI.  Before the latest CEO began, he noticed a trend in the company loosely translated as a “Chain Of How”.  This means a worker needs to ask a supervisor for help, then it goes to a manager, up to a director, reaches the VP, then finally lands on the CEO.  This model implies only the CEO is smart enough to solve problems.  The book goes into more fascinating detail about FAVI that will get you to think differently.

I saw a little version of  the “Chain Of How” in play while at the tire center.  When you begin to see this pattern in your organization, call it out as a problem immediately

You need to improve information flow so your crew can find answers themselves.  You need to teach, model, and support problem solving methods so your staff is equipped.  Look at your approval protocols to see if they are too stringent.  Look to see if your culture put leaders on the mantle as the smartest people.

Once you train your team how to solve problems and break the “Chain Of How”, you will stop wasting employee skills and customer waiting time.  It will also place you in a prime position to take your Lean journey to a whole new level.

If you liked this post, then try:

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

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4 Comments

Filed under Business, Improvements, Problem Solving, Waste

4 responses to ““Chain Of How” = Problem

  1. Excellent insight and example.

    Knowledge Management(in general) and knowledgebases, cross-training, collaboration tools — and many other tools and techniques — can help “improve information flow”.

    And, of course, success in this ultimately depends on your people. In particular, facilitating an information sharing culture when “hoarding” is often seen as a personal-value(worth) enhancing approach, instead — the “If I’m the only one that knows how to do this then they can’t fire me” mentality.

    Teaching appropriate and applicable analytical and problem-solving methods can assist team in asking the right questions, which have to precede them finding the right answers(solving the problem).

    And don’t forget that this sharing of information extends to your customers, too. Well designed self-service(help) options should be available. For example, there is no excuse for not having an FAQ listing at all points of service(front desk, kiosk in a showroom, website, etc.) — at minimum.

    An area of possible concern would be the potential for diminished team(inter- and intra-) collaboration(and all good teamy things) as the self-sufficiency of individual members increases. Does every (wo)man become an island? or at least a peninsula? In my experience this does and can happen even with the best intentions.

    Still, the benefits to information sharing FAR outweigh the potential pitfalls(which usually can be mitigated anyway).

    Russ
    Seattle, WA
    http://twitter.com/russhatfield

  2. Thanks Russ for this insightful response. I never considered customers as a group to help problem solve but you are absolutely right. At one of my previous jobs, we found customers preferred tools to help themselves instead of having to contact the company for assistance. Beyond being a cost-savings to the company to have less problem calls, the customers were more satisfied (for the most part).

    I also really like your consideration about the risk of diminished teams. I think this is an unintended consequence. Calling it out prior to making the change helps you develop counter-measures to reduce the risk.

    Once again, great comments.

  3. Pingback: Lean Is About People – Not Engineering « Improve With Me

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