In organizations, there are a multitude of projects that are constantly underway. These initiatives are designed to fix an existing problem or improve something, such as reduce the number of client complaints, increase billable hours, or achieve higher quality in a product. These are good goals to have, as long as leaders recognize the true life cycle of this kind of undertaking. Even when a project appears “finished, ” it may in fact require more revisions and iterations. If an unexpected development occurs — and it probably will — it doesn’t mean the initial phase failed. It just means you have to dig deeper than you thought to get out of that messy hole.
I am speaking from experience, as yes, once again, the chipmunks managed to create a sinkhole in our driveway. When we had the area repaired last time, we thought we had it solved. Forever. It was not our intent to face this situation on a recurring basis.
Two years ago, we were amazed to learn that tiny chipmunks could have created such a problem. We called in a paving company to help, and turns out that they had run into this exact situation at other homes. The underground tunnels ran below our driveway, so the disruption of soil underneath was enough to have the soft pavement cave in. With the knowledge we had at the time, they repaired the area, including the preventative measure of packing sand and small stone densely into the area, something we all felt would eliminate any occurrences of repeat chipmunk offenders. But despite our efforts, these tiny, adorable, creative, and curious little animals have us digging out of a hole, literally and figurative, again.
A lot of things can happen in two years, and we did have one other major change since the last chipmunk caper. When replacing the roof last year, we reconfigured the porch line to help direct the flow of water and snow. We didn’t realize how much that would impact the amount, direction, and intensity of the water drain-off in this general area, in essence making it easier for the chipmunks to return to their cozy little spot again.
So imagine how discouraged we felt when we saw a new hole develop! Thoughts of blame towards those that fixed it, along with despair about any permanent resolution were two themes prevalent in my mind. And I can pretty much guarantee those are thoughts that go through a manager’s mind when faced with an employee who reports back unfavorable project news: “whose fault is this???” and “why didn’t it work the first time????”
In our organizations, this kind of imperfection is usually not well received. Many managers are quick to come down hard on individuals when a project didn’t end up as planned. There is immense pressure to be efficient — and perfect. Mistakes, especially costly ones, become more difficult to tolerate when schedules are tight, client demands are intense, and staffing resources are low. It’s important to remember that many factors are involved, such as changing conditions, new data, and a learning curve when trying to fix something new for the first time. After all, if we had all the answers, the problem wouldn’t be there in the first place.
Rather than getting frustrated, build a project plan that understands the realities ahead. And remain flexible as you work through challenges. Resolving problems, especially ones that are complex or involve uncontrollable variables, can take multiple tries. Your approach with your employees is critical to maintaining their motivation and morale, too.
When you are in the midst of a messy hole, you may have to dig deeper than you originally thought to get out of it.