There are many times that leaders find themselves dealing with issues that they feel they have dealt with before, finding themselves puzzled because they are sure they fixed the problem or declared the solution and the problem should be gone. But, for some reason, the issue keeps coming up. This can be not only frustrating to everybody involved, but can start to challenge the perception of the leader about the commitment (or even intelligence) of his or her followers. Of course the problem is, if everybody does not agree that the issue is resolved, then the issue is actually not resolved.
For example, I worked with a multi-national company at one point with offices throughout South America. My work was actually in Brazil where the location there had been in such dire straits that they had to go through major cost cutting just to survive. Part of the cost cutting involved the elimination of Blackberry devices for managers at a certain level and all employees except for those in sales. This policy was further adopted by all of the South and Central American offices.
The session I was conducting included Brazilian, Argentinian and Venezuelan leaders in this company and during this session, some griping was heard from the Argentinian leaders when they saw how many Blackberrys were held by people attending the session—including the Brazilians.
As it happens, the office in Brazil is much larger than that in Argentina, and therefore using the same rules meant that more people in the Brazil office had Blackberrys than those in the Argentinian office. Nonetheless, the issue was still there and people were clearly annoyed by it. None was more annoyed than the Argentinian senior executive who started to call her people together to set them straight that the issue of having Blackberrys was “closed.” It had been discussed before, she had made her decision, end of discussion
The interesting, and very common, issue here is that the leader felt the discussion was closed because, to her, the discussion was about Blackberrys. As we looked more closely at the issue, it was clear that the phone was not the issue but rather a symptom. What she had dealt with was, to her, a simple operational issue. But to the Argentinian employees, it was more than that. Seeing that others apparently had privileges that they did not, the real issue was one of respect.
Too many times we forget the council of Steven Covey in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” when he says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” As leaders we often see forbidden behaviors or actions and are truly puzzled at how stupid our people have gotten all of the sudden. We don’t understand why they would continue to make an issue of something that we have closed.
Remember, it might be that the real issue is not closed at all. Don’t take the first action that comes to mind as it may not be the right action and it is likely to address the wrong problem. Instead, take the time to talk to your people to find out why the issue you believe is closed appears not to be. It could be that you were actually not as clear as you thought you were and you have to revisit it. More likely, there is another issue about which you were unaware. By addressing the root cause, you might actually change the behavior. Until you know what attitude or behavior is really the problem, your approach will be guided more by luck than by intent. And you’ll find yourself continually frustrated that change is not happening as you had hoped.