Reward the troubleshooters

Say you are on a boat with 10 people. You then notice that the boat has developed a leak and water is trickling in. Now even as most of you busy yourselves throwing pails of water overboard, somebody ought to find the leak and fix it.

In large organizations, it is easy to lose sight of this simple truth. I once worked with a manager who I thought was great at damage control. Regardless of the crises that raged on the project, he kept his calm and routinely looked for the best way to salvage the situation. With time, I realized that his projects always had raging crises and he was perpetually on damage control mode. I then realized that this manager was great at handling crises, but poor at preventing them. He was great at ordering his team to throw pails of water overboard, but poor at helping them finding the leak.

As organizations grow larger and more complex, they go from rewarding people who find and fix problems to the ones who are busy working long hours playing whack-a-mole with the crises that keep popping up. As leaders it is your job to prevent this from happening.

Crises are inevitable, and the occasional damage control is a necessity. But if crisis is the norm in your team, you are probably rewarding the busy damage control folks while neglecting the troubleshooters.

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