Sometimes the solution is really simple. The art of decision making is in the analysis of the problem. I recently read of a great, translatable reference from Sutton and Rao’s book: Scaling Excellence, that I will share.
Consultant Gary Latham was working with a sawmill that had a terrible problem with the staff stealing tools. Adding to the dilemma, the representing Union protected the employees so tightly that any legal recourse was nearly impossible. There was an absolute thrill in getting away with stealing and a subculture of respect was given to those that stole the most.
Latham’s full understanding of the problem with the leadership team left him with three pursuable options: 1) provide financial incentives for not stealing; 2) install security camera’s and monitor closely; 3) kill the thrill. The group chose to Kill the Thrill.
Kill the Thrill involved announcing a simple new policy that any employee could check out a tool of their choice at any time for free. This immediately removed the incentive and cultural appreciation outcomes of stealing going forward. You can’t steal what is free to borrow. The leadership team also featured an amnesty day where anyone could return a tool with absolutely no response cost. They had to extend the day to several days to accept back all of the tools. The tools hadn’t even been used or resold, they were just the trophies of the thrill. They even learned that many of the families were glad that the tools were returned so they didn’t have to store them all any longer.
Any number of solutions could have been tried, but the simplest one that prescriptively addressed the problem worked the best by following these three tenets:
- remove the outcome of the thrill
- identify powerful incentives and disincentives
- reduce the thrills and replace them with constructive ones.
Fall in love with the problem to simplify the solution.