At a company conference several years ago, Leadership asked for anonymous comments from team members about concerns they had for the business. I wrote, “Sometimes it feels as though management is like Nero fiddling while Rome is burning”. This may have been harsh. My point was that there were issues in the organization that I felt were not being addressed that could cause major problems for the company.
Working in the quality side of the business I developed a keen sense of how the right (or wrong) combination of situations could severely damage a company’s image. Although we had not experienced a product recall situation, I felt Leadership was not taking the ‘close calls’ we had the previous year seriously enough. We all have a responsibility to keep the consumer safe while protecting our company and brand image. The best way to do this is to prevent problems from happening.
Today the news of a product recall is instantaneously broadcast to the world via the Internet. Within a few hours, social media will pile on and before you know it, the problem is broadcast nationally and beyond on multiple media outlets. Think of Toyota and the uncontrolled acceleration in some of their cars: the combination of a few minor design flaws impacted the safety of the product. Whether the situation was under control or not, Toyota’s reputation was damaged almost immediately after the announcement of the product recall.
Having knowledge of a situation that could potentially create a product safety issue and damage the reputation of the brand and the company is a call to action. It can take courage to make a case to Leadership in order to prevent a severe problem from developing. It is also essential to demonstrate credibility, produce supportive data, and offer a solution when possible.
“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you are right” ― Henry Ford
When it comes time for the rubber to meet the road, the discussion will come down to credibility. It takes time to build up enough trust to have difficult conversations with your superiors. To make a difference within an organization, one has to be trustworthy and have a track record of solid performance. Do what you say you are going to do and do it well.
Use Solid Data
When developing a case for discussion, have solid data behind your claims. It is not enough to say, “I think there is a problem.” Any reasonable manager will ask for evidence. What I found over the years is that sometimes when going through the due diligence of building a case, we find that the issue isn’t as dire as we originally thought. On the other hand, sometimes it’s worse. Do your homework to clearly and fairly prove your point.
Develop a Feasible Solution
“Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining.” - Teddy Roosevelt.
Finally, put together a feasible solution or action plan that will mitigate the situation. It will make the case more credible if Leadership is presented a specific set of activities that clearly identify the current risks along with corrective actions. Nobody likes to have problems dumped on their doorstep, so when the person making the case suggests a solution, the chances of being heard will greatly improve.
Whether it is a critical product safety issue, or a significant business situation that needs to be brought to Leadership’s attention, summon the courage to make the case for improvement. If you believe the bosses are ‘fiddling’ or just focused on the myriad issues of the day, take the initiative to make a difference.
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