Selecting The Right Tools: How Not To Fit Square Pegs Into Round Holes

August 4, 2011

By Michael B. Tatham, President, The Tatham Group

I love holiday weekends.  They usually mean family gatherings by the pool, good food and relaxation. This past weekend was really nice as me and my brother-in-laws were ushered off to the golf course. Three amateurs armed with good weather, best intentions and beer.  What could go wrong?

Not much unless you are playing golf with the rule that the lowest score is the best. One brother-in-law, tired of taking so many shots, found a club that worked and decided it was the best fit for every shot. The other said something that has stuck with me:

“Just because the wrong club may get the job done for you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t choose the right one to get into the right habits…regardless of the output.” 

Any amateur golfer would quickly argue that the game is already hard enough so there is no need to make it even more difficult. Any professional will tell you that while it may appear easier in the moment the long-term effects can be disastrous to your game. When your game is not well refined you can use force to fit a square peg into a round hole. Over-time this will be a hindrance, not a viable solution.

The same can be seen in business. No one comes to work thinking of the best way to purposefully lose money. Yet it is surprising how many people will encounter a problem, frustration, time constraints, etc., and look to the easiest or first recommended tool to take care of the matter. As long as the platform stops burning, we’ll be fine.

When working with a financial institution there was an issue with rework and errors being submitted from the field to back office. It was costing a lot of time, energy, frustration and customer dissatisfaction. The solution du jour? An integrated technology system would make the field representative fill in the information correctly before they can submit for processing. Makes sense. And it most likely would have reduced some of the aggravation. And at the very least it would have shifted the fire to the technology department.

However, the inability to screen the information upfront wasn’t the real issue. The real issue was how the field representatives were being measured. It’s not that they were unable to provide accurate information. Rather they were unwilling to do so as once the information was fully processed they would incur a personal expense. The representatives were intentionally providing missing and misinformation in order to prolong the length of time until they had to incur the cost of the submission. Once they were sure that the customer was a viable candidate, they would call in and offer all the required information.  If the customer wasn’t, they just ignored the requests.

In the end, the technology would have only had one impact without first changing the measurement.  The representatives would have moved their business to an institution that didn’t charge the fee to them personally.

As with this example, technology often becomes the favorite club.  Most highly and frequently recommended however not always the best choice or long-term habit one should get into. How often are leaders using brute force to fit a square peg into a round hole in order to satisfy an immediate or obvious need without taking the time to use the right tools and build the right habits?


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