Do you feel like you are playing Whac-A-Mole?

Photo By Pexels/Richard Wilson

Every day, it’s something, and it begins:

  • Why didn’t they say they needed screws yesterday?
  • An installer texted that he locked his keys in his truck.
  • Your 2 p.m. appointment just sent you a text that they cannot meet at 2 p.m. but could meet at 10:00 a.m.
  • An employee calls in sick, but it sounds like they’re on a party boat. 
  • A delayed delivery email arrives. You need that delivery now! You have to spend the next ½ hour finding out what happened, where it is, and how to get it today. 
  • An installer calls because they’re confused by your design and unsure how to install it. They want you to come to the job site to explain it.
  • Your customer from yesterday’s installation calls and is super happy with the design and installation. They have a check ready, but they are going out of town and would like you to stop by to pick it up before noon. (You wish the installers had retrieved it the day before). 

I had a custom home builder friend tell me one time “I know there will be at least six problems today, I just want to know what they are by 8:00 a.m. so I can begin to solve them.”

The fun part of owning, working in, running, or managing a business is that no two days are the same. There are some days, however, that I wish they were…

There are days when I go home feeling like I accomplished nothing. That is not true of course, but those are the days when it seemed that all I was doing was playing Whac-a-Mole, that old arcade game created in 1975, of taking the soft hammer and waiting for a “mole” to pop its head up so you could smack it back down. There are only 5-8 holes in the game, but you never knew which hole the mole would be coming from. Working in a business can often feel like that.

You are not alone.

Some people enjoy the game and the chaos. For me, our industry is all about “solving problems.” So, how do we solve these problems when they pop up?

  1. Can they be anticipated? 
    If you can relate, if you are reading this and feel like I was in your business just yesterday with the list at the beginning of the article, then we KNOW it will happen again. If we know it will happen again, then we KNOW that we can anticipate it and plan contingencies for each “Mole” that pops up. 
  2. What did you do last time?
    Did you document how you resolved it?
  3. Did your solution work? 
    If not, did you determine what you could have done that would have worked?
  4. How do I avoid playing the game?
    The answer has many names: Systems, Process, Procedures, SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) 

When we first meet with a potential client, we get to know them a little. Part of this is so we can learn how to help them. We then move on to an assessment of the space and their needs. Creating these procedures is no different.

Take, for example, the first thing on the list, there are no screws. We know we need those screws; we know where to buy them, we know how much we are willing to pay for them, we know how many to buy to get the best price, and we know where we keep them. Whether we store them on the truck or in the shop, there is a space. This is “getting to know them.” Of course, “them” is the problem. 

Now for the Assessment:

  • What is the minimum quantity we know we want to have in stock before we place an order? 
        o Determine your bottom line; be sure to order it then.
  • What is the method of communication for placing that order? 
        o Do you rip the boxtop off and leave it on the bench?
        o Do you take a picture of it and text it?
        o Do you have a red card that has the screw data that is turned in to a certain location where you will see it? 

Grocery stores manage stock with software and barcode scanners. The options are limitless. But the key is that they all are Procedures. We need them to avoid running out of screws at the worst possible moment! 

The next problem on the list, “Locking the keys in the truck,” works the same way. Sit down, talk it over, and come up with your response to the problem in advance. 

  • Do you have extra keys? 
  • Who carries them? 
  • Where are they stored? 
  • Should you have a set in your car? 
  • Could you install an alarm with remote access to unlock the door via an app on your cell phone? 

Whatever you decide, write it down and share it with everyone. When that day happens, you will know how to respond quickly and efficiently.

The point is that we all know and have experienced that things pop up that we did not anticipate. Those things require our attention and focus, pulling us away from our planned goals for that day. If we have procedures in place for the problems we can anticipate, then our focus and attention can be deployed on the goals we want to accomplish or the problems we did not anticipate.

The solution to playing Whac-A-Mole better is Process, Process, Process!


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About the author
Tim Coleman

Tim Coleman is branch manager of SCE Unlimited Chicago, a div. of IBP. Coleman founded his closet organization company in 1988 and ran it successfully for nearly 30 years. In October 2020, he took the helm at SCE Unlimited, which offers wire and wood organization systems, hardware and accessories.