Monday, September 23, 2013

Reporting positively when you can't report on failures

In many organizations reporting problems or failures is not possible. It is either 'unacceptable' or has been proven counter-productive in the past (too much finger pointing, not enough done to prevent it from happenning again). In these organizations, there is a sense of denial: denial of the failures themselves or/and a possibility of failure. It is also the belief that being deaf to bad news ensures that only good news are listen to and thus contributing to an environment of positivism. These organizations tend to not last long either in structure or form.  More on that some other time.
So what does a responsible manager do?  Action has to be taken regardless of organizational belief and doing the right thing (reporting on issues and addressing them) is not an option. You can turn this around by reporting instead on successful recoveries and near misses. This way, it keeps to the mantra of good news.
The first step is to capture near misses. This is when the system or processes resolves issues before they become noticeable. This includes issues that are within acceptable service levels. This focuses these reports on the successful execution of processes and systems. These types of issues are statistically higher than actual problems. Near misses, as we are going to call them, happen more often than the problem itself (or a hit). So expect to provide summary reports for many similar problems.
Once this becomes acceptable, expand reporting to actual problems. The way to do this is to capture issues, resolve them within your structure and report on the successful result. This can be difficult when additional resources are required. In the spirit of positivism, frame the request for additional resources on the need to succeed in your efforts, that it is contributing to success. This is in no way an encouragement to prolong or even hide issues. Since service levels have been breached, efforts to rectify the problem will take priority. It's just you can't talk about it.
The key focus is to end reports on a positive note. Spend as much time and space in the report on solution and preventive action as long as the report ends on with a note of success.
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