by Dean Leutscher

Think about the last time you or your child were in pain and you visited the doctor or hospital. Because you were focused on how much it hurt, it was difficult to look at the situation clearly, without emotion and bias. You just wanted the pain to go away. You certainly were in no position to diagnose the problem yourself.

At those times you want a medical professional to ask questions, assess the situation, get to the root cause of your pain, and fix the problem. You also want someone who will be objective, but still share your passion for relieving the pain, for getting you healthy and functioning at your best.

It’s also very difficult to be objective when working with our teams, departments and across departments. Naturally, bias or self-interest can prevent us from being able to clearly assess the challenges and cure the problems. We know something is happening that shouldn’t, or something isn’t happening that should, but we’re too close to the daily activity to objectively analyze the situation and recommend options to “heal the hurt.”

We all filter information from our own perspective, and that’s to be expected. Subjectivity is a positive and necessary attribute to succeed in our work. After all, the subject of our vocation is our passion; it’s what we have studied and trained to do.

It’s also the reason we understandably cannot be objective at times, particularly when a problem involves “our baby.” When it’s our product, program, process or people we naturally become protective of it. We look for the change to come from the other team, company leadership, the vendor, the customer…

Sometimes the first step in solving a problem is having the courage to accept the fact that we are too close to the situation – maybe even a part of the problem – to recognize the causes. We must be open to accepting the diagnosis and treatment alternatives. One thing is certain: Unless something changes, nothing will get better.

Mining objectivity gold

Objectivity is the gold every businessperson seeks. But where will you find it? The larger your company is, the more likely you might discover the help you need somewhere within the organization.

Objectivity might come from simply mixing things up a bit. For example, you could agree to temporarily exchange an employee or two with another department. The new “temp” would have the talent and skills you need, but not necessarily experience in your discipline.

Your continuous improvement, human resources or training departments may have someone with the necessary expertise to conduct the performance appraisal. Notice that I did not use the term training appraisal. You will never have a training problem because training is a solution, not a problem. If your people know what to do and how to do it, training will be a waste of time and money. Something else is going on that must be objectively analyzed.

Another option is to look outside your organization for broad-based talent and skills – a consulting firm, consortium or individual who will bring no personal agenda, and can ask the right questions to discover opportunities for improvement. And remember, objectivity and passion are not mutually exclusive. I am passionate about improving profitability by helping people, programs and projects work more efficiently and effectively. Objectivity is fundamental to the value I deliver, and should be for every consultant. For example, here is how objectivity helped me serve a recent client.

The small engineering/manufacturing company designs, fabricates and installs testing and custom production equipment. It is a tight-knit group of very talented people, each contributing their unique skills to solve their customer’s problems. Fortunately, they were aware that they were too close to their own work, too busy getting things done, to recognize the causes of problems related to customer service and profitability.

As part of my fact-finding process, I asked questions they hadn’t considered. From their perspective, they could only see the symptoms, not the underlying causes. After studying the information gathered, I could paint a clear picture of the current situation for all to see and recommend solutions.

My solutions were fairly easy to implement, including a new change-order process, but they will significantly improve their communication with each other and the customers, reduce errors and rework, and increase profitability.

If increasing profitability is one of your objectives, begin by mining the gold; find someone to objectively analyze your problems and present the solution options.

Dean Leutscher, PMP helps his clients increase profitability, applying his broad experience, talent and skills in program/project management, marketing, sales, performance improvement/training and writing/editing. Dean has also written for GRAPE on the importance of a Change Management plan: “Are the Lights Working at your Change Intersection?”