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Carpe Diem

You’ve probably been inundated with advice about how to weather economic turmoil. My friend and mentor, John Scherer (www.scherercenter.com), gave some of the best I’ve heard. He said that in tough times, we need to carpe diem, seize the day. That is, use the uncertainty to re-examine and re-invent. To think differently about old problems.John calls it breakthrough thinking. In his March 19 newsletter, The Scherer Report, he gave a great example of what this means.I’m going to let him tell you about it.


Recently a client company’s ‘Help Desk’ was falling far behind, taking 15 to 20 minutes to even answer the phone. The Breakthrough Action Team working on the problem was trying to figure out how to justify the cost of doubling the number of people answering the phones. They had tables of research and estimates of how many calls a person could handle in an hour, multiplied by the number of calls coming in each day, etc. I was consulting with the team and I suggested they were working very hard at ‘First Order Change’—that is change within the existing paradigm that doesn’t fundamentally change anything.


‘The way you SEE the problem is the problem,’ I said, quoting the ancient Yogic tradition.


What would happen, I challenged them, if they shifted to a breakthrough mindset? I asked them, ‘What would be the ideal number of calls coming into the Help Desk?’ They again started calculating the number of calls that could be handled by six people, then 12 people. I stopped them and asked again, ‘What would be the ideal number of calls coming into the Help Desk? ’Some team members started getting irritated with me. ‘We’re working on it, John!”


Finally one person said, ‘Well, the ideal number would be zero! But that could never happen.’


‘Why?’ I asked.


‘For one thing the sales team would have to do a much better job of selling, letting people know certain things they are reluctant to tell clients.’


‘OK,’ I said, ‘someone write this stuff down.’


Another person chimed in, ‘Then the installation team that goes in to build the system would need to do a much better job of listening to the client and their needs. Oh, and the training team would need to take the time to make sure the participants actually understand the system. They just come in, do their program and leave.’


‘Ok,’ I said, ‘there’s your focus, not on the number of people you have in the Call Center Help Desk.


They went to work, invited people from sales, installation and training to be part of a special cross-functional breakthrough thinking team and came up with a set of innovative action recommendations for consideration by the key decision makers.


The result? Three months later I was there for a follow up meeting and I wandered downstairs to the Help Desk to see how many people they had hired. There sat a lone telephone operator at her desk, reading a book! I said, ‘How’s it going?’ She replied, ‘It’s a little boring sometimes . . . but I can’t say I miss those days when six of us were here, frantic and overstressed. I get about ten calls a day now, and they’re usually pretty easy problems to solve. I don’t know what you did, but it worked!’


Now, that’s finding the opportunity in a crisis. Whether you’re a CEO, a small business owner or someone who’s lost a job, this kind of thinking makes lemonade out of whatever lemon you were handed.

John has just published a great new book, Five Questions That Change Everything:Life Lessons at Work. Click here to learn about it (http://www.amazon.com/Five-Questions-That-Change-Everything/dp/0979531527/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1242068594&sr=8-1 ). I’ll be reviewing it in a later post.

Plum Cluverius is an executive and leadership coach located in Richmond, Virginia.

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