chase the mouse“We are working for a real pinger today,” were the first words out of the mouth of my Senior Airman trainer on my very first day on the flightline. He went on to explain a pinger is a person that freaks out and is bouncing from one thing to the next like a ping pong ball. This was the literally the first piece of on-the-job training I received. This is something that is noticed by everyone and not admired by anyone. We have all seen those that freak out when something is not going well and dedicate ALL resources to the issue.

The problem with this is when all resources are focused in one area, other areas are now failing. Then we get healthy in one area and then fail in another and throw the resources there and the cycle continues. When it comes to making the mission happen we can easily fall into a “chase the mouse” scenario. We are tempted to constantly run from one fire to the next. We look like a cat chasing a mouse. This wears our people out and it makes us look like we do not know what the heck we are doing.

As the expression goes, “what is measured is what matters,” or some variation of this is the mantra of many senior leaders. They do not have the ability to get into the weeds all the time and have to determine the health of the organization by specific metrics. Their subordinates (usually our bosses) often chase these statistics and when the unit is substandard on one or lagging behind their peers, they begin to ping.

Naturally, we need to shift our focus when we are not meeting standards. However, it does not require a tourniquet on a paper cut. Instead it takes getting to the root of the issue. What I do is take a quick look at what I think the root cause is and then find one person with the skills to lead the effort. Once I have this person in place, I let them know where we are and where we need to be. They are then trusted to find the root of the problem and let me know what is needed to fix it. A lot of issues can be fixed just by putting eyes on it and educating the masses.

By having a more deliberate approach to the situation can and often does lead to a fix without shifting very many resources at all. The argument arises that it is easier to say than do when leadership is breathing down your neck. Truthfully, you are already out of standards in one area and it is known. I have never once had a single issue explaining to the boss that we are looking into the root of the issue and here is our plan to fix it. A lot of times once we start to look, the issue is even worse and those findings are also shared with a proposed get well date. Accept responsibility and accountability and the desire to fix the problem. This is typically met with a “keep me updated” response and that is the end of the conversation.

When we panic and blindly throw people or money at problems, new areas will soon fall below the standard. It makes us look worse when we get one area up to code and a new deficiency is briefed the next meeting. Here our leadership looks at us as ineffective and those we lead feel the same way and morale begins to fade. Instead of chasing the mouse throughout the organization, relax, take a breath and define the cause of the problem that you are actually solving.

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