Sometimes facts don’t line up with the truth.
This may sound like a word game, but bear with me. What I mean is this: How a person feels at a given moment is a fact. The person — be it an employee, shareholder, your child or your spouse — indeed feels a certain way, but the truth about the circumstance in that moment may be far different than how he or she feels about it. The truth may differ greatly from what is currently visible or being experienced. The surface level facts and deeper truths are connected, but often in conflict with one another.
The distracting subjective fact of what is happening right in front of us regularly conflicts with the quiet objective view of what is actually true.
In other words, things ain’t quite what they seem. A quote attributed to Mark Twain goes something like this: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Why, you are probably asking, is this important for a leader of a business? Our worlds shrink down to what is happening right in front of us, and we lose sight of what the right and best thing to do is.
Let me give you an example. On a normal weekday, you roll into the office and immediately start fighting fires. These may typically be part of executing the daily output goals of your organization, such as orders being shipped on time, production issues, or perhaps quality issues. Often these fires revolve around the drama and trauma of the people we work with on the team. The urgency of these events keep us busy. They also keep us distracted from the broader and deeper needs of the organization, such as accountability, macro process, attracting great employees, or investing in culture. The momentary needs of the organization are brash and demand our attention. They are noisy and busy and consuming.
It’s a fact that the order needs to go out by noon. It’s a fact that line three on the plant floor is down again, and you need to get out there and wade into what happened and make sure someone fixes it. It’s a fact that the shift manager is stirring up drama with his crew on second shift because of the chip on his shoulder due to being overlooked for a first shift position. These events are all facts and need dealt with. It’s a fact that these things are urgent and pressing and stressful, and, because of the heat of the moment, they grab your attention. They feel very important. But perhaps these events are simply urgent.
There is a big difference between urgent and important. We get very distracted by the urgent because of how it feels at the moment.
However, truths that are important routinely do not feel urgent, but are truths, nonetheless. For example, the broader and more objective truth is the need for the boss to focus on the fundamental operations of the organization. That is important. The urgent fact remains that the order is late, but the important deeper truth is this: the organization needs a simpler, stronger, smarter, written process which the plant can follow to get orders out on time. This is the real solution to the first crisis.
The deeper truth about production-line three on the factory floor is that perhaps you have neglected the training regimen for your maintenance crew, or perhaps you have been procrastinating on finding a great maintenance manager. And as for the second shift manager, perhaps you haven’t spent enough one on one time with him to determine his own professional goals and abilities, and how they may line up with the company vision and trajectory. Or perhaps ( I find both of these situations frequently) you haven’t released this manager to the market place because you don’t have a better person to replace him. I’m thinking of the Pearl Jam song “can’t find a better man.” The more important activity you should be engaged in is a robust recruiting strategy.
The truth is that the company’s macro processes are broken. You can continue to spend your days trying to put out each fire only to see a new fire erupt somewhere else, or you can fix the flaws in the process, which are causing the fires in the first place. You can’t do both at the same time, but they are intimately connected. The one is a symptom, and the other is a root. Not to overstate the obvious, but solving symptoms is an exercise in frustration because the issue continues to happen over and over. Solving roots can be hard work and expensive in the short term. But the long-term payoff far exceeds the cost, as opposed to the monumental waste of resources expended treating symptoms.
In order to have an effective and meaningful organization, you as the leader need to shift your attention from the short term facts to the long term truths.
© 2023 Mark Whitmore