Unsticking a Sticky Wicket

January 14th, 2014 by Rich Christiansen

Each January when my family takes down our Christmas decorations my boys, without fail, will take all of the cords and connectors and toss them into one big bin. This of course leads to a tangled mess which inevitably creates a dilemma the following November for the one in charge of untangling the electric cords. What we’ve discovered is that if you yank on the cord you only further compound and complicate your problem. What it takes to untangle the cords is to carefully jiggle, wiggle, and follow each cord one by one all the way through the knot.

This past week I had a particularly nasty knot brought to me at Froghair. It was an incredibly complex problem where multiple mistakes had been made, multiple individuals were involved, and no proper documentation had been done on either side. What was occurring here was everyone was running around yanking on the ‘electric cords’, which made the knots even worse. I was able to sit down with our entire team and outline a solution using a process I have used whenever I need to unstick a sticky wicket. Let me share this with you in the hope that it can also help you grow your business.

1. Write down the names of all the decision makers and those involved with the problem. And I mean everyone from the very top of the corporate ladder to the bottom. Next you’ll need to identify what department they work in and where they fall on the corporate ladder. Too frequently I’ve seen a CEO insert him or herself into a conversation with the other side’s shipping manager or the Sales Vice President reach out to communicate with the Finance Coordinator. Match equal to equal on communication and make sure you follow the levels of structure. Find out who are the players on your side and who are the players on the other side.

2. Categorize the problems. List all the problems, including pre, current, and post problems. I like putting them down the left side of the whiteboard. Next list the cause of the error in the middle of the board. For example you could list what caused the error or what happened because of the problem.

3. Identify each problem’s level of seriousness and urgency. Which are the biggest knots in the cord causing this big tangle? Focus on the great big, hairy problems and make sure you take all the motion out of it before you tackle the smaller ones. Too frequently businesses reach out to a vendor or customer about one problem and then bring out all the problems on the list at once. Pretty soon it’s so tangled up that you completely ignore or miss the key one to solve. The trick to solving the big ones is to focus on it and only it and go through the proper channels. Avoid blending all the problems together. Pull them apart and separate them.

As I sat down with my team we listed seven or eight problems and found what it really boiled down to was one or two key things. I advised them to let go of the small things while they untangled the one or two big problems. Once the giant knots were untangled the little tangles basically took care of themselves.
If your team follows these simple steps then the 80/20 Rule will come to light. The twenty percent effort will achieve eighty percent of the work and everything will instantly untangle. That’s what happened with our Froghair team this week.

Sticky wickets are more an emotional problem than a logistic or physical problem and once you are able to put a plan of action in place and clearly understand what went wrong and where and who needs information you will then untangle the web one problem at a time. Although I wish you luck I know everyone runs into sticky wickets occasionally. Following these steps will help you unravel them quickly when they occur.

Happy Zigzagging.

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