Identify Smoldering Problems Before They Flare Up

ThinkstockPhotos-78811366Everyone has situations that require their attention. Many people work on the problem that hits their desk first and procrastinate with those things they dislike (like taxes). Others create an ordered check list and attend to things in that order. Most well-run companies prioritize things that can’t wait and follow them up with those that can.

The key, however, is identifying what is a priority. When the fire alarm rings, it is clear that there is an urgent situation, but priorities do not always announce themselves with flashing lights and sirens. Often, things that should be a priority may quietly smolder, ready to cause a conflagration if left unattended. It is your job to investigate those situations that before they become critical

So while your first step should be to take care of the obvious priorities — such as dealing with a really unpleasant, confrontational employee before your really good people quit — you should also be continually looking for the less obvious problems. These are typically situations that are not in your line of sight, so you’ll need the help of your team to bring them to your attention. It may be a something where there may be potential liability, but it may also be an opportunity that’s been overlooked. This may be a business opportunity that you thought you had a poor chance of winning and put little effort into, but after further investigation could be a bonanza, or dozens of other situations that may been put in the trash bin.

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Here are 2 scenarios of smoldering problems that can escalate in damaging ways.

1. A business developer who was once a star, was no longer very productive, and did not document his work — and he was not being well supervised. One day, he walked out with many of the company’s top clients in tow. This could have been identified by a good manager who monitored the employee’s declining performance, took remedial action and had a parallel relationship with that person’s clients to reduce their risk of losing them.

2. An IT staffing company put a programmer to work in what they were told was a commercial office setting only to find out after an injury is reported the worker was reassigned to a manufacturing area — a setting for which the firm had no workers’ comp coverage. Having procedures for all employees to report any change in physical work setting, should have been routine and a priority.

It’s common for management to focus on the proverbial squeaky wheel, but you should always be on the lookout for those situations you can resolve before they damage your brand.

MORE: What is turnover costing your company?

Michael Neidle

Michael Neidle
Michael Neidle is president and CEO of Optimal Management, an advisor to staffing firm owners and managers.

Michael Neidle

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