Small-business problems pop up all the time – so often that owners often jump on the latest crisis and lose time to solve problems before they become big ones. Here’s one way to think about anticipating and stomping out problems early.
I like Whac-A-Mole , the arcade game where a plastic mole pops out of a hole, you whack it with a soft mallet and another mole quickly pops out of another hole. The faster you whack each mole, the higher your score.
A good operation in a small company resembles this game. You the owner or manager find the biggest problem, whack it and quickly move on to the next problem. With Whac-A-Mole, you deal with a problem that’s important, not yet urgent.
The real problem in a small business: Most of the time you don’t play Whac-A-Mole. To shift the metaphor, you deal with the swamp where many alligators rear their heads at once and you likely deal with the resulting business emergency . This steals your time to solve a mere problem, even turn it into an opportunity, on your terms.
Everyone on your staff gets the idea of a business Whac-A-Mole metaphor right away. You might even find your staff generating great ideas for where the next moles will pop up and which one to whack first.
Still, at first your staff might not know which mole is peskiest. The onetime best client suddenly way behind in payments? The supplier who stops taking your calls? The marketing campaign with lagging returns, or the new accountant who goofs on your quarterly tax returns?
You as owner or manager probably recognize the worst still-small problem immediately. Once you pinpoint the mole, your staff gladly helps get rid of it. Ideally, your staff knows where to put their energy first and quickest.
The reality: Left to themselves, most of the time your staff has no clue where to start on a simple business problem. Force them to choose and likely they direct their attack to what, in the long run for your company, isn’t the worst of all the moles and the one you, as a proactive manager, need to get rid of first.
Search for the biggest problem that, when solved, offers the easiest payoff. Then ask for your staff’s help on how to best whack that mole. If your staff’s suggestions fall short in your eyes, step in and direct their energy. Tell your people where to look for emerging problems – where the next mole will pop up.
Start with low-hanging fruit, problems easily controlled and that produce a high payoff. Find a new supplier or accountant, prod that once-big client with personal visits or formal, frequent correspondence. Control wins most games; control in this business game almost guarantees a good early payoff.
You and your staff then enjoy some easy wins and excitement early in the problem solving. Once you see success, whacking the next mole and enjoying the next payoff – and the next, and the next – becomes easier and faster.
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