First Line Manager: The Problem Ain’t The Problem

I am discussing a recurring problem with an engineer on the phone. Bob S., my Customer Service Manger told me the problem occurred again today. This engineer’s crews cause the problem when they come into our territory and de-energize a power line without notifying our office. We get trouble tickets from the customers, when we arrive on site we find his line crew working. I express my concern in strong language. I tell him this problem must stop. He must send out interruption cards to the customer and let our office know before de-energizing the power.

I hang up the phone. Bob says, “Jim, I see you do not understand how the company works.” I ask, “What do you mean?” Bob replied, “The problem ain’t the problem; the problem is you keep bringing up the problem.”

What are business problems? I think there are three main types. There are problems in your department, problems with other departments, and problems with new computer programs.

How can you handle problems in your department? Train each employee on departmental processes. This training defines how each employee works with customers and other departments. The training explains how following defined processes will prevent problems with customers and other departments. Also, you can create a shared information site for employees. A department shared site on a computer with department processes and links to other information is critical. Most complicated business problems occur randomly. The shared site provides step by step instructions on processes. Each employee must know how to access and use this share site. Update process changes on this shared site as the changes occur; then, communicated this to each employee. Also, timely follow-up with an employee who does not follow the correct process is critical. The goal of a process is to prevent recurring problems

First line managers must find a way for their department to effectively work with other departments. Sometimes your department and the other department’s goals seem to conflict. You can work out a process that works for each department.

There is a problem between my department and changes made in another department. The other department managers change a process without notifying my department. I call a meeting with the other departments’ managers. We create a new process to make our goals. I sent out the process. Then, I hear that the general manager of the other department thinks the process set up by me is a barrier to his department. I failed to make clear in the communication that both departments’ managers agreed to the process. We handle this issue. Then, the new process prevents confusion between my department and the other department. This is one of the most difficult issues you will handle; the working relationship between your department and other departments. Collaboration with the other department on a new process solves most problems. This is the key to create goodwill for you and your department.

How can you solve problems a new computer program creates? We use several computer programs to do most processes in my department. The computer programs are constantly changing. It is difficult to retrain employees to use these new programs. This is because employees like old features that a new program may not have. Also, new programs tend to get more complicated. Processes must change because of these new programs. The effective training of the employees is critical. What does this mean? Two-way communication between the employees and me is critical during the process change. This communication allows me to consider the old features in the creation of a new process. This communication allows us to find work-a-rounds for employees in the new program. I check departmental processes and make changes to avoid problems when we get new computer program.

Change is mandatory; it is not optional. Change can create recurring problems. You must find a way to prevent recurring problems in your department and with other departments. You must use collaboration, training, and listening to create processes that work.

By doing this, you are not the problem; you are the problem solver.

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About OJ

I am a retired first line manager with over 40 years of experience. In operations management, accounting management, and central operations management. It is my wish to convey some of the experiences I have learned form over the years in the articles on my site.
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