Don't Band-Aid your problems

Disease. Sickness. Illness. Few people like to discuss these things. I'm sorry to do so, but no other area comes close as far as an effective analogy.

Suppose you had some really serious illness — one that required immediate medical attention. Suppose further that this illness occasionally caused you to bleed. Would you simply put a Band-Aid on the spot where you were bleeding, and once the bleeding stopped, say to yourself, "Well, everything's just fine now"? I would hope not. You would go the physician, describe the situation, and then follow the instructions you received, right?

Or, to use another analogy: Suppose, annoyed by the "Check oil level" light that always come on when you're driving, you somehow manage to disable that light? Would you then say "Well, everything's fine now"? You might think so for the moment, but when your engine seizes up on a south Texas farm road, miles from any city, your view would change.

Take a close look at the policies you implement in your organization, particularly the help desk. Make sure that the policy really is addressing an issue, not merely the symptom of an issue. I once did customer service consulting for a major law firm. During the course of that engagement, I visited the help desk, interviewing the manager and several analysts. From talking with others in that firm, and from visiting their offices, I learned that their phones had Caller ID.

When I visited the help desk, somehow the topic of Caller ID came up. The manager mentioned to me casually that in the help desk area, Caller ID was disabled. When I asked why, she replied that the analysts previously would look at the display before picking up a ringing phone. If they saw the name of a difficult caller (usually one of the senior partners), they would simply refuse to pick up, leaving the call to someone else.

I responded to her the way I began this blog entry: by telling her that the reluctance certain analysts to answer the phone was symptomatic of a larger issue (namely that of dealing with difficult callers), and that suppressing the Caller ID display did nothing to resolve that issue. I pointed out further that other tools were available to determine if people were "slacking off" on their share of taking calls — namely, reports that the telephone system could generate, regarding abandoned calls and non-pickups. In addition, I said, a key objective would be to find out WHY these analysts were reluctant to answer, and if necessary to talk to the partners about this issue. My final point was that the training I provide in dealing with difficult people could help remove the need for Caller ID suppression.

Trivial example? You bet. However, it illustrates an all-too-frequent tendency we have to jump to conclusions, and treat a symptom rather than an underlying cause. Try to avoid doing the same in your own organizations. Rather than solving a problem, you could simply be creating new ones.

About Calvin Sun

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

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