A Manager’s Dilemma: When is the Best Time to Focus on Business Improvement?

There are numerous pressures that come with managing a team of people. Ultimately, as a manager, you will have two major objectives you need to achieve. First, you need to be able to deal with today. This means that you need to ensure that you are delivering against toda­y’s performance requirements, whether that’s in production output, sales won or invoiced, or leads generated. Whatever department you head up, you will undoubtedly have targets you need to achieve each day/week/month. That is the job of a manager – to ensure that your team succeeds against those targets. This will usually mean dealing with any problems or blockages to progress as well. The second key role of a manager is to make sure your team is operating as efficiently as possible. This means dedicating time and energy towards improvements.

Here is where the manager’s dilemma begins… In order to deal with urgent fires today, and to ensure that performance requirements are achieved, you must focus your time and attention on solving those problems, removing those blockages and hitting the targets. These blockages can manifest themselves in machine breakdowns, employee absenteeism, delays to progress, and so on. In other words, managers must focus on the day-to-day. However, if you want to ensure there are fewer fires in the future – and you are therefore able to perform better overall – there is a pressure to direct your time and attention towards improving the system, your people, the processes, etc. Managers must spend time making sure their team is delivering against even more impressive targets this time next year. So, the dilemma looks more like this:

Managers find themselves flipping from one area of focus to the other (D and D’) in an attempt to satisfy both. Often, there will be a real drive towards improvement at the start of the new financial year for example. Management will spend some time discussing what the vision for the next year should be, what the goals and objectives are and how to improve the business in order to reach them. However, too often this drive gets lost in the day-to-day as we try to deliver on our targets and current promises.

As a result, this seems like a permanent dilemma for many managers. There will always be a need to focus on firefighting since there will always be problems which require management expertise and attention. In addition, there are often more problems than there is time to fix. As a manager, you will always need to get involved in the day-to-day running of the department. Then, on the other side, there will always be the need to upgrade your people and processes because most of the time, when you put the fires out, you don’t take the time to ensure they never reappear. It takes significant time and capacity to make things better (things don’t get better on their own). So, you hop from trying to satisfy one need, to the other; leaving you in a seemingly endless cycle.

There is a solution. A good solution should be systematic, meaning that when we solve a problem, it should never reappear.

A good solution to this dilemma, then, must reduce the drain and load on management attention. It must improve the performance of the team/department and reduce the number of issues that need to be fixed on a day-to-day basis going forward. This means that any improvement initiative addressing performance must be fast – reducing the time that management spend implementing it which will free up management capacity and result in fewer fires in the future.

At Goldratt UK, we believe we have solved this dilemma for many managers through our Rapid Install service. Our implementations are based on problem solving. They are staged to create bite sized improvements, dealing with the most important and re-occurring problems first. The Rapid Install was designed to minimise interruption to day-to-day work life for our clients, so we do as much preparation work offline as possible. It’s an improvement initiative that minimises disruption and delivers results remarkably quickly. When you engage with us, you will also gain management support and a team of people to come and help you improve the business quickly and efficiently.

The time to improve is now. You will always have fires to fight if you don’t make the tie to address the root of the problem and ensure it won’t come back…

“Before working with Goldratt UK, our senior management team was too busy fire-fighting and chasing late orders to focus on winning new business. Our improved delivery performance means we are now able to focus on growing the business further.” Rod Buckley, Managing Director.

“This project has focused us on key issues, at a time when the company’s growth does not look like diminishing… I am very impressed by Goldratt’s common sense approach.” Peter Wylie, Director and General Manager.

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By Phil Snelgrove, Lauren Wiles

© 2021, Goldratt UK