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Know Where to Look

December 27, 2009

Sustaining activities keep the current state of things moving along. For the most part, we earn our paychecks by completing a set of well-defined tasks that sustain the process.  Don’t do enough of this, or don’t do it well, and you’re not doing the job you’re paid to do.  Searching activities, on the other hand, find ways to accomplish what can’t be done with the current process.  These activities are not well-defined in any job description beyond a generic bullet point about “process improvement,” and are difficult to measure and reward.  Searching doesn’t guarantee a find every time.  Eventually though, it leads to discovery, which leads to change and the creation of a better process to sustain.  Both have their value and place in the organization, and both are crucial to its success.  But one important differentiation is that it is becoming more and more difficult to build a career, at any level, if you are only prepared to sustain.

Searching demands an investment in time to figure out why things aren’t working well and then test out improvements.   The good news is that you come across searching opportunities everyday.  For the next few days, make a special note when you are:

  • Correcting an error
  • Processing an exception
  • Handling a complaint
  • Complaining about something (not someone)
  • Locating missing information or paperwork

Ask “why is it happening?” and answer the question.  Using the answer, ask the same question again, and then again.  After the third, forth, or fifth time is when the source of the problem typically emerges. Up until then all you get are symptoms—or by products of the problem.  Why is it important to find the true source?  Even a small fix, when applied to the source, will start to neutralize the problem.  Conversely, even the largest fix to a symptom won’t make the problem go away.

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The Back Office Mechanics Blog by Nancy Wu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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