By Default or By Design?

rubber mallet



Planning.  Execution. Accountability.

These were the themes that ran through my call this afternoon with three executives from a major retail chain.

We were talking about their Regional Managers.  These are the people who manage the District Managers who manage the Store Managers who manage the Employees that help you and me when we walk into their store.

More precisely, we were talking about how their Regional Managers (RMs) have difficulty with planning, execution, and accountability.  The biggest challenge they have is being able to prioritize their time.  They’re always reacting to the crisis of the day:  putting out fires, and living in tactical mode.   Some examples:

  • This store didn’t get their shipment of product.
  • That store’s assistant manager quit without giving notice and no one’s there to open,
  • This store is short-staffed so we’ll move people from another store to help out.
  • And so on.

These sorts of events happen in retail all the time.  My question to the group on the phone was Why are the Regional Managers dealing with these crises?

Stunned silence.  

What do you mean?

Don’t you have a whole other two layers of managers–the District Managers and the Store Managers– who are capable and competent of dealing with these issues?

Time for some denial, and some spin:  The RMs have always taken a hands on approach with their people.

Hands on is fine, but whose hands should be on what?

As we continued talking, it surfaced that this “living in the weeds” was keeping the RMs from thinking strategically, and delivering on their responsibilities.  The company’s results were suffering.  The RMs were suffering.  They were stressed out.

What also surfaced was that the question that “Why do the RMs manage down 3 levels, and is that the right thing to do?” had never been been asked.

That’s the way we’ve always done things around here. In the RMs world, they saw it that they were too busy to plan.

Maybe they’re too busy not to.

In his book, Start With Why, author Simon Sinek shares a terrific story about the power of planning:

A group of American car executives who went to Japan to see a Japanese assembly line. At the end of the line, the doors were put on the hinges, the same as in America. But something was missing. In the United States, a line worker would take a rubber mallet and tap the edges of the door to ensure that it fit perfectly. In Japan, that job didn’t seem to exist. Confused, the American auto executives asked at what point they made sure the door fit perfectly. Their Japanese guide looked at them and smiled sheepishly. “We make sure it fits when we design it.”

Too many organizations have too many people employed as mallet workers.  They’re spending too much time, energy and money fixing things that, if planned properly, never would have needed fixing in the first place.

When it comes to achieving results through planning, execution and accountability, how would you describe your process?  Do your results come by design?  Or by default?

What pressures get in your way that keep you from doing your best planning?

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