So I’m often asked how I would deal with certain situations: the upset consumer, the overworked programmer, the agitated sales team, the under-performing product, the miscellaneous stakeholder input.
Truth is, I don’t. I don’t deal with any of them.
Dealing with something inherently takes on a negative connotation as if there’s some exacerbating about having to acknowledge a situation or concern.
Rather than dealing with something or someone look at it as an opportunity to better a situation. Problem solving is a key component of being successful which permeates every aspect of one’s life. Embrace the circumstances rather than just deal with them. In my mind there four simple steps to really embracing an opportunity – I call it the LACE theory.
The first step in moving from a “deal with it” to “embracing the opportunity” is to really sit back and listen to what the concerned party has to say. Don’t take listening overly literally. Sure, listening to a customer or concerned stakeholder inherently makes sense when it comes to ‘comprehending the words they are using’ but listening can also be accomplished with the inanimate, such as an under-performing product. My dad used to always tell me that my car would tell me when something ways wrong. Being my car was a 60s muscle car he meant it as much literally as he did figuratively. We tuned a lot quite a bit using old-fashioned, basic diagnostics tools when things weren’t quite right and the obvious parallel to my current technology driven career when using simple analytics to spot the basic details of why something isn’t quite right. In those cases, I was listening to the numbers.
Listening is fact-gathering. The key isn’t to diagnose anything yet, it’s just to hear what the problem seems to be and ferret out all the details you can. This does two things, it tells the concerned party you care and it provides you with the foundation to take appropriate action rather than make a knee-jerk response. When you don’t listen first and take a just deal with it approach you miss the critical facts that define the underlying or entire problem and you respond solely to a surface situation.
Anything you’ve ever learned about communication theory applies here, so make sure you use all those great techniques to ensure you are really getting all the information you need from the concerned parties.
All those facts you gathered by listening all tell a bigger story. What is it and more important what does the story actually mean? What is its moral?
Understanding the facts in order to craft a story that provides you with a clear direction for what to do next is the key to this step. Storytelling is a skill all its own with a number of theories to choose from. There’s no right or wrong here, just an interpretation of the facts and what you suppose you will do with that interpretation.
Personally, I like to frame my story telling based on the original situation. If it was a customer or a customer care issue I like to use them as a face to the underlying problem to be solved. It helps personalize and humanize the technical jargon feature sets hide behind in the same way that describing a well formed value proposition is used to cut through the branding muck that usually comes out of product brain-storms.
Take the analysis and do something with it. One of the most recurring mistakes is going through the effort of fact gathering and analysis and then never doing anything useful with it. Commit not to a plan of action but taking the action itself. It is imperative you implement what you’ve learned thus far in a meaningful way and make the necessary change. You’ll never be truly sure if you’ve made the right decision until you’ve put it out there and you won’t address the issue that was brought forward if you stop before this point.
Using the definition of sound that supposes perception is a prerequisite, let’s use the tree analogy here: if you make a change and no one knows you have, have you really made a change?
Explanation should start with going back to the original point of tension and addressing the correction with them. If it’s a customer they will feel empowered knowing their pain-point has brought progress. You may never win them back, but you may mitigate some of the hateful evangelism dissatisfaction usually harbors. If it’s the dissatisfied sales team now is the opportunity to train them on the real added-value you’ve created for them. If its another upset stakeholder walking them through the improvements will negate fear and trepidation, hopefully replacing it with buy-in. This is your chance to follow-up with everything through-out the opportunity building process and ensure that the original issue is thoroughly resolved to everyone’s liking, including our inanimate product which will be grateful it runs fast, more efficiently and is more engaging to the consumer through increased usage (it’ll tell you so in the metrics, remember).