Archive for the ‘problem solving’ Category

Never Complain

Monday, July 8th, 2013

John was the longstanding controller at an exclusive private club.  When the new General Manager made the rounds of department heads to assess the state of the operation, John had a long list of complaints about the other department heads and their failure to meet accounting deadlines for payroll, inventories, and accounts payable.  In particular he said that invoices were not coded correctly requiring an inordinate amount of his time to research and correct before he could pay them.  Lastly, he said that a number of department heads and supervisors seemed to have no understanding of basic accounting and financial management . . . and trying to get them to prepare proper budgets was a nightmare!

The new GM listened patiently to this litany of problems and then responded, “So what are you going to do about it?”

Taken aback by this response, John mumbled, “What do you mean?”

“You’re the controller – the club’s subject matter expert on all matters of financial accounting and management – so stop complaining and do something about it.  For starters, do you have written standards, policies, and procedures for accounting?”

“Uh . . . no.”

“Well then get busy writing them and don’t forget to include detailed instructions of how to properly code invoices and develop an expense dictionary.  And it wouldn’t hurt to start holding classes to teach the other managers how to do things and what your expectations and deadlines are.  You’ve got my complete support, so let’s get to it.  Just keep me informed of any issues and problems . . . and oh . . . make sure you invite me to all your classes.  I need to learn too.”

At first John was offended and irritated that the entire burden for straightening out this mess fell on him.  But the more he got into it, the more he realized that he could either complain or fix the problem.  So, over the course of the next six months John outlined and wrote a comprehensive series of accounting standards, policies, and procedures; met with department heads to better understand their concerns and issues; and taught a series of 15-minute classes on accounting at the weekly staff meeting.  Eventually, he incorporated all the class materials into a workbook entitled Basic Accounting and Financial Management for Managers, which was used to train new managers and supervisors.

By year’s end the majority of John’s issues were resolved and the entire accounting flow was smoother and more efficient.  During his performance review for John, the GM commended him for his initiative, hard work, and execution of the project.  Not only did John get a major pat on the back, but the GM gave him an unexpected and substantial bonus for the improvements in all areas of the club’s accounting function.

John’s lesson learned:  Never complain; always occupy yourself with solutions.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hospitality hardworking  managers throughout the country and around the world.

Hospitality Resources International – Management Resources for the Hospitality Industry!

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Focusing on Solutions

Monday, October 17th, 2011

“Never complain – always occupy yourself with solutions.”

This simple yet important maxim was brought home to me with stunning force years ago while working at a California resort.  Here’s the story:

Marjorie was the friendly head cashier at the resort and reported to the controller, who, as can be expected from someone in that profession, was a stickler for detail and accuracy.  Among Marjorie’s duties was the task of safeguarding the resort’s large cash reserve bank and making change for the many cashiers.  Her small office located in the administration building was frequently crowded with employees seeking change.  Quite naturally, it was also a scene of noise and confusion.

One day on my walkabouts I stopped in to chat with Marjorie and was surprised to find her crying at her desk.  When asked what was wrong, she responded tearfully that she was in danger of losing her job.  Unaware that this was so, I asked why.  She then related to me that, on multiple occasions during the past month, the resort bank came up short.  Each time she was counseled by the controller, but at the last counseling her exasperated superior warned her that further shortages could result in termination.  She went on to say that no matter how careful she tried to be, her bank was once again short.  Through her tears she said she was sure she’d be fired this time.

As I sat across the desk from the distraught woman, I tried to calm her, but nothing I said could reassure her.  Finally, in a sharp voice I said, “Marjorie, are you stealing from us?”  Shocked, she looked at me incredulously and said quietly, “No!  I could never do that.”  Having gotten her attention, I said, “OK, then, let’s try to find out where the problem is.”  I then listened carefully as she described her daily routine for me.

Slowly, in response to my questions, she began to realize that counting errors were the natural consequence of the confusion of multiple employees engaging her in conversations while getting their change.  Marjorie’s native friendliness and outgoing personality were making it difficult for her to concentrate.  I suggested that rather than going meekly to the controller to report yet another shortage, she should confidently go with a carefully thought out analysis of what was wrong and what steps she would take to overcome the problem.

As the two of us sat there reviewing the current procedures, Marjorie drew up a short list of how she could avoid future shortages.

  1. Replace the door to her office with a Dutch door that would remain closed and locked, thereby keeping employees out of her office.
  2. Require employees seeking change to line up outside the door.  This way she would deal with only one person and one transaction at a time.
  3. Keep the large safe closed and locked while maintaining a smaller “par” change fund in a locked drawer at her desk.  This way only a smaller amount of money had to be monitored and counted with each transaction.
  4. Keep a log of all the change needs by each employee.  Over time this record would allow her to establish the par fund at the appropriate level – neither too large nor too small.
  5. Establish a policy that change for the largest cashier banks would only be made by appointment.  This would allow her to be prepared for and deal with the largest transactions in a methodical way.
  6. Establish set procedures for counting out change.  Employees seeking change would use a change request form that itemized their needs.  She also would establish a specific routine for multiple counts of tender and change while keeping tender separate from the par bank until all counts verified the transaction.

By the time I left her office, Marjorie had calmed down, galvanized by her plan to eliminate future problems.  The next day she stopped me in the lobby to tell me that the controller was thrilled by her proposed “solutions” to an ongoing problem.  He didn’t want to fire her; he just wanted the problem solved.

Buoyed by the sense that she was now in control and that her job was no longer in jeopardy, Marjorie confessed that her preoccupation with the potential consequences of the shortages blinded her to a solution.  She said it was a hard lesson learned, but one she would never forget.

It also made a great impression on me – one that I too still remember.

Excerpted from Leadership on the Line:  A Guide for Front Line Supervisors, Business Owners and Emerging Leaders, Ed Rehkopf, Clarity Publications, 2006

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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Problems as Opportunities to Lead

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

It’s been said that every problem is a gift in disguise.  It brings to light something that can be done to make the organization function more efficiently.  Having a negative attitude toward problems blinds you to solutions.

Problems should be solved at the lowest possible level.  Senior leaders are responsible for charting the course of the club and planning for the future.  The more time they spend dealing with day-to-day operating problems, the less able they are to fulfill those roles.

Be Proactive in Finding Problems. Every organization has problems, but some managers try to hide them.  A sure sign that there are problems is that no one ever talks about them.  Everything seems to go too smoothly; no one wants to rock the boat or else they are in deep denial.  It is a simple task to ask questions, to dig a little wherever you go.  Inevitably problems turn up.  Often those most familiar with and vocal about problems are the employees who deal with them every day.

A significant step in solving problems is to place a major and positive emphasis on problem discovery.  It’s the first step in problem solution.  As a leader, your performance is not measured by how few problems you have, rather by how many are being actively addressed.  Senior leaders expect to hear about problems from you, not from your employees or members.

Every Problem Has a Solution.  There may not be an ideal solution, but there will be a solution.  Many problems are complex and involve other areas of the club.  Setting priorities and being willing to work as a team play large parts in solving interrelated problems.

You may also need to break large problems down into their component parts.  This often points the way to a solution.  The many small steps taken to correct a problem frequently involve compromises.  Do not be discouraged if no perfect solution exists; find one that solves the greatest part of the problem, or is the easiest to implement, or gives the biggest bang for the buck.

Brainstorming with other leaders or with employees can provide insights into solving large and complex problems.  Do not hesitate to use your employees’ knowledge of the operation to help find solutions.

Finally, solutions cannot be implemented in a vacuum.  Examine how proposed solutions might affect other parts of the club and coordinate implementation accordingly.

Design System Solutions.  Quick fixes usually do not address the underlying causes of problems.  By examining, improving, and documenting the process, you can establish underlying systems that will routinely handle situations.  When the bulk of situations in a club are handled routinely, more time is available for member service and paying attention to details.

Attempt to follow the Pareto Principle* or 80-20 rule.  If you have established routine system procedures for your operation, you are able to devote 80% of your efforts to 20% of the operation – the most critical details.

Summary.  Continual Process Improvement requires a positive emphasis on problems and problem discovery.  How you as a manager address the problems of your organization sets the example for your employees.  If everyone in the organization views problems as a hassle to be avoided, nothing is ever solved and your club founders in a never-ending sea of troubles.

*“The Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Business management thinker Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed in 1906 that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. It is a common rule of thumb in business; e.g., ‘80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients.'”  (source:  Wikipedia)

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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