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Have you ever had a problem in your business and you took action to solve that problem only to find out several months later that you still had the same problem?  (I thought we fixed that a few weeks ago!)

Have you ever had an employee come to you with a pressing issue and you thought you immediately knew the cause – only to find out later that there was more to the story – and your original conclusion was wrong?

In order to improve your business, you need to effectively identify and solve problems – even more importantly, those solutions need to stick – they need to be durable and last more than a few weeks.  If the people impacted by the solutions don’t accept them, those changes will not last.  So, how do you get your people to accept your solutions?  The answer is:  You don’t!

There’s an old saying that goes something like this:

Tell me and I forget,
Teach me and I remember,
Involve me and I learn.

Getting your people involved in crafting solutions to problems is, hands down, the best way to make those solutions last.  You’ll also likely come away with better quality solutions!  Here’s an example:

I worked for a tooling manufacturer that kept having quality defects in many of its plastic parts.  Many of the parts had voids from the forming process.  Engineers were called in.  Experts were consulted.  No one could figure out how to solve the problem.  When the data was analyzed, they realized the parts run by one specific operator had almost no quality issues.  In interviewing the operator, they asked how she prevented the quality problem.  She responded that she just bumped the filled form on her table – like she bumped cake pans filled with batter before she baked them at home.  This caused the air pocket to work up through the material before it was formed.  The employee had solved a problem that had stumped degreed engineers and other experts!

I still remember walking into that plant my first day on the job.  It was early in my career and there were people who had worked there longer than I had been alive.  As soon as they walked into the plant in the morning, they could tell by the sounds and smells of the machines what type of day it was going to be.  I learned that no one knows a particular job any better than the employee who has to live with it every day!

Most of us know that asking questions is a great way to discover new information.  The challenge is knowing how to ask the questions in a way that truly engages the employee.

If you walk up to an employee who has made a mistake and ask, “Why didn’t you catch that error?” you will likely get excuses.  Your question just blamed him/her for doing something wrong.  The person will immediately get defensive.  Even though you know that employee caused the error, and you feel perfectly justified in your inquisition, you won’t get a good solution to your problem.  All you will achieve is lowering the motivation of your employee.

If, instead, you were to approach the employee and say something like. “It looks like it’s really tough to catch all these (name the defect).  From your experience, what’s the biggest obstacle to catching and preventing this?”  Now you have accomplished several things:

  • Instead of blaming the employee, you have now shown that you value his/her experience.
  • You have crafted the problem-solving exercise as ‘me and you against the problem’ instead of ‘you messed up’.
  • You have acknowledged that particular job isn’t always easy (few are) and that you understand the challenges the employee faces.
  • By asking for help identifying obstacles, you have automatically engaged the employee in finding a solution to the problem.

This approach puts you and the employee on the same side of the issue – the side that wants to solve the problem.  It shows the employee that you value their knowledge of the job.  It raises the self-esteem of the employee instead of hammering it.  If you will ask the question above and then stop talking, you stand to learn a lot.

Edwards Deming said “Eighty-five percent of the reasons for failure are deficiencies in the systems and process rather than the employee. The role of management is to change the process rather than badgering individuals to do better.”

Certainly, there are a few folks out there who aren’t interested in doing a good job.  However, in my experience in literally hundreds of plants around the world, I’ve found that most employees want to do a good job.  They want to be valuable employees who accomplish meaningful tasks and help the organization succeed.  As owners and managers, we are responsible for creating an environment, a culture, that promotes this perspective.  This culture is a result of your beliefs – beliefs that drive your daily actions.

As managers we are conditioned to constantly find and solve problems – fix what’s broken and things will improve.  Our days are filled with looking for what is wrong, looking for problems to solve, looking for people making mistakes.  When you think about it, that’s a pretty negative way to live.  If you agree, try this instead:

At least once every day, walk around your company and intentionally focus on what is being done correctly – not the heroic over-and-above efforts but the regular day-to-day of executing consistently correctly.  Look for an edge that has been hand-polished correctly.  Look for a checklist that was initialed on time and showed evidence of the items actually being reviewed.  Look for someone preventing a trip and fall event by getting a trip hazard out of the way.

Uncovering these actions and thanking the employees who performed them will go a long way to improving your culture – and injecting something positive into your day.  I have clients who keep $50 gas cards in their pockets.  When they see something exceptionally good being done, they hand out the cards.  Highlighting these employees at your weekly or monthly all-hands meetings is also a good practice.  I have clients who, in their daily stand-up meetings, start with the question, “who has seen something good happen in the last 24 hours?”

Making changes like these aren’t expensive – but they can sometimes be challenging.  It’s tough to undo our old habits.  The key is consistent practice.  You may do well for a couple of days and then it seems like you are in the middle of a dumpster fire.  That’s life.  Once the fire is out, resume practicing these new habits.


You deserve to have a business that makes you money, but also allows you time to enjoy it. Contact the author at Ed@FabricatorsCoach.Com or call 864-328-6231.


This article was published in the September 2022 Issue of the Slippery Rock Gazette, find it at: