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Cheap management tricks that really work

By Dr. Steve M. Cohen

Sometimes office management is more a matter of quickly throwing out a good answer rather than some profound strategy or statement.

I’m not trying to minimize the organization and old-fashioned brainpower that goes into managing an organization. If you’ve read many of my blogs, you know that I view your job as challenging and often frustrating. It’s definitely not easy … and then it gets harder.

But some of life’s most intractable problems can be smoothed by what can only be called “style.” I’m not talking about your wardrobe, but rather some preplanned “emergency kits” that can help keep you out of trouble.

One of the most important is how you tackle serious personnel issues, those problems where someone may have to be let go or severely disciplined. Perhaps it’s a case where you advanced someone you had doubts about, but you went ahead and did it because it seemed the easiest route at the time. Now they’re failing. Or maybe two people are bickering so constantly that they threaten to disrupt the entire office. You get the idea: messy issues.

When you’re faced with this level of management chaos, your first reaction is usually to create a Plan A. This is usually the path of least resistance. Sometimes it will even work. More often, there will be a need for midcourse corrections, which become Plan B. Finally, when Plan B fails, which is almost certain, you are generally left with the most realistic option: Plan C.

Plan C is usually what you didn’t want to face in the beginning, although it was probably the obvious solution all along. It’s not that you want to run from the problem; it’s simply human nature that we hope problems can be solved easily. We really want Plan A to work. If Plan A doesn’t work, then we’re pushed to cobble together a Plan B. All the while, Plan C is sitting out there like medicine that tastes bad, but you know it will work.

Consider all of this in the context of the “flight or fight” response. Usually, our response to this kind of emergency is not thought out well. We convince ourselves that Plan A might work (and we really hope so). When it predictably fails, we flail around and light on Plan B.

The truth is, your Plan C will almost always be the most effective way to solve the problem. My recommendation is to go ahead and make Plan A, even Plan B. Look at them closely. Then set both aside and draft Plan C.

A similar strategy works when staff members come to you with problems—and let’s face it, that’s probably one of the areas that devours much of your day. In this case have them go through four steps to arrive at their own Plan C:

  • What is the problem, really? Require them to examine details.
  • Then, ask them to define the cause(s) of the problem. Make sure they identify causes, not just symptoms.
  • Next, have them list possible solutions. Most problems have more than one solution. Thinking about these options is important.
  • Finally, what is their solution?

Like the Plan A, B, and C method, this process will help lead a staff member to think about problems before racing to your desk. Best of all, you’re likely to get some good insight about issues and solutions that you might not readily see from your vantage point.

None of these are truly “cheap tricks”; they often take discipline and practice to use effectively. But making them part of your tool kit—part of your style—can be an important addition to your management capabilities. Give them a try.

Dr. Steve M. Cohen is Principal and Lead HR Consultant at HR Solutions: On Call, an advisory service for medical practices and other small businesses.









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