The morning paper…..and failure.

Imagine you are an executive and you are sitting down to your early morning breakfast with the daily paper.  As you read the paper, you find an article about your company and you are stunned to find it is not a flattering article but a description of a traumatic event that has come to a customer using your product.  You are shocked and embarrassed and it is not even 0600 yet.

When you get back to the office, you find out this situation was known by the line management and workers of the company.  They have been wrestling with whether the problem is, in fact, a problem and the magnitude of the problem if it is a legitimate event.  The line personnel wants to determine if it is a problem how to correct rather than make this situation aware and bring the entire company’s resources to bear on the problem.  I have seen this situation a number of times and it fits the product development chicken description.  However, there are other reasons for a problem internal to the company at the lower levels to be found ultimately by the customer and to the surprise of the CEO. Some of those are:

  1. insufficient root-cause analysis skills throughout the organization
  2. insufficient communications across the organization
  3. an organization culture of wait and see (do not escalate)
  4. organization politics

The organization’s culture does not change quickly, and once we have driven our teams to behave in a particular way, it can be time-consuming and difficult to alter that way of working.  Once our people think it is better to keep things on the QT rather than make the situation aware at large, we can expect this way of handling situations that are tenuous to be consistent.  It is no wonder that executives find the bad things in the newspaper, or certain engine manufacturers are blaming the failure to meet emissions targets are the result of rogue engineers.  Line managers have a responsibility to understand the potential consequences and articulate these as quickly as possible to throughout the organization rather than a wait and see or kowtow to political aspects. 

As long as we put our collective head in the sand when we should be boldly and aggressively seeking these possible failures to quickly find a definitive resolution, we can expect to see these “surprises” continue to happen.

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